MANILA, Philippines — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday accused a dismissed police colonel, who had publicly criticized him and his deadly anti-drug campaign, of criminal involvement and said he wanted to know why the former officer "is still alive."
In a late-night televised speech, Duterte condemned dismissed Senior Superintendent Eduardo Acierto, who told reporters over the weekend that the president had been repeatedly photographed with two Chinese men involved in drug trafficking.
Duterte defended one of the two Chinese men, saying he had accompanied China's premier on a visit to the Philippines and was a businessman who traveled to the country in 1999 to sell Chinese-made cellphones.
Acierto, a veteran anti-narcotics officer before his dismissal by an anti-graft agency last year, said he submitted a report to top police officials and Duterte's office about the two Chinese to warn the president of their background. But he said he was never informed if the two were ever investigated.
"In my investigation, I discovered that our president ... is often accompanied by two people deeply involved in illegal drugs," Acierto told a news conference late Sunday in Manila, adding that he was later accused by authorities in a criminal complaint of involvement in drug smuggling instead of the Chinese men.
Duterte said Acierto was the only police official who has made the allegations against the two men. He said Acierto was an "idiot" allegedly involved in corruption, drug smuggling, kidnappings of Chinese nationals and the killing of a South Korean man.
"Don't ever believe specially this Acierto," Duterte said in a speech in southern Koronadal city. "What if I ask the military and the police, 'Why is this son of a bitch still alive?"
Acierto denied any wrongdoing.
The president mentioned Acierto while talking about his efforts to combat corruption, including corrupt policemen. He also criticized and ridiculed opposition senatorial candidates running in mid-term elections in May.
Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency Director General Aaron Aquino told The Associated Press on Monday that he received Acierto's report and sent it to Duterte's office, adding that both his office and that of the president took steps to validate the allegations against the two Chinese. He said the two were not on any list of drug suspects.
Aquino played down the photographs showing Duterte with the two Chinese men, saying officials often get approached by all sorts of people for group photographs without being able to rapidly check their background. He questioned the credibility of Acierto, who he accused of being linked to drug smuggling.
Profiles of the two Chinese provided by Acierto to reporters said they were involved in the "manufacturing, financing, the importation, transhipment and local distribution of meth or shabu," referring to the local name for methamphetamine, a stimulant.
Acierto said he initially welcomed Duterte's passion to combat illegal drugs. But he said he later realized that the president's deadly crackdown took a wrong approach by targeting mostly poor drug suspects instead of going after powerful drug lords and traffickers.
More than 5,000 drug suspects have been killed in what police say were gunbattles that ensued during drug raids under Duterte's crackdown, alarming Western governments and human rights groups.