MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine president warned a pro-poor group on Thursday not to take over a government housing project and said violence and deaths could occur if it defies orders and resists the police.
President Rodrigo Duterte ordered Kadamay and other groups to leave the low-cost housing area in Rodriguez town east of Manila by Friday noon, or he would deploy special police forces to drive them away. Police are under orders to wrest back control of the houses if they are seized, he said.
Kadamay members attempted to occupy some of the vacant houses in Rodriguez on Wednesday but police drove them out. Some gathered nearby and staged a protest.
"If you want a fight, I'll tell the police to give a fight," Duterte, known for making death threats against drug and crime suspects, said in a speech before village leaders.
Duterte said he told police not to start any violence, "but if you need to kill in order to implement the legal regulations, do it. If it leads to five, six, seven deaths, I don't care."
Last year, Kadamay members forcibly occupied vacant houses intended for police and soldiers in Pandi town north of Manila. Duterte allowed that takeover out of compassion and promised those who lost their prospective homes that he would build another housing enclave for them. A lack of land and decent housing is a major problem in the poverty-plagued nation of more than 100 million people.
Duterte warned the group not to repeat such a takeover, and expressed disgust that Kadamay members and other left-wing activists had burned his effigy in street protests.
"You burn my face and then you ask a house from me. Are you crazy?" Duterte said, drawing applause from the audience, which included military and police officials.
Duterte has come under fire for his crackdown on illegal drugs which has left thousands of mostly poor suspects dead, and for his threats against criminal suspects, insurgents and political opponents.