MANILA The Philippines on Wednesday rejected Amnesty International's labelling of its president as among world leaders with a "toxic agenda", and accused the general secretary of the human rights group of arrogant lecturing.
President Rodrigo Duterte enjoyed high public approval ratings and had shown willingness to listen and adapt himself, his spokesman said, adding that his trademark fiery speeches were far from the poisonous rhetoric he was accused of.
"He does listen and he's not just frothing at the mouth, there is a genuine source of anger and it's not toxic," presidential spokesman, Ernesto Abella, said in a television interview.
Duterte has gained a reputation for his volatility, profanity and threats to kill criminals and drugs dealers. He has shown no qualms about hurling insults at world leaders.
In a statement accompanying Amnesty's annual worldwide report, its secretary general, Salil Shetty, said "divisive fear-mongering" had become a dangerous force in the world, and leaders like Duterte, U.S. President Donald Trump, and Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan were "wielding a toxic agenda that hounds, scapegoats and dehumanizes entire groups of people".
Abella said Duterte stood for tolerance and mutual respect, and Shetty had missed the mark with his "lecture" and was arrogant to dismiss the president's popularity among his people.
"He was speaking from a moral high horse," Abella said.
(Reporting by Martin Petty; Editing by Robert Birsel)