President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines joked on Monday about using marijuana to stay awake at official functions, but the punch line appeared lost on a nation where thousands of people have been killed in his antidrug campaign.
At a ceremony meant to honor diplomats and employees of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Duterte said that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a regional group known as Asean that includes the Philippines, had a grueling meeting schedule. It was an apparent reference to local news reports that he had missed events at the Asean summit meeting in Singapore last month so he could take “power naps.”
Mr. Duterte, 73, said that attendance at some meetings should be delegated to the “lower echelons” or ministerial staff, and that leaders should tackle only the “most important ones.”
He said that on a recent trip to India, he had stayed up all night because he wanted to catch up on documents, “and the more that the crescendo becomes faster, the more you can’t sleep because you’re catching up on reading.”
“You do not want your president to look ignorant or sound ignorant, so I have to catch up with the reading. There really is no time,” Mr. Duterte said.
The meetings, he said, start early in the morning and can take up the whole day.
“It’s a killing activity. But at my age, I am not really bothered because I take marijuana to stay awake,” he said to bursts of laughter.
But not everyone was amused by Mr. Duterte’s remarks, which came four days after a Philippine court sentenced three police officers to up to 40 years in prison each for the murder of a 17-year-old boy, the first convictions in Mr. Duterte’s overarching war on drugs. Rights groups say that more than 12,000 people accused of being drug dealers or users have been killed by the police or unofficial militias since Mr. Duterte took office in June 2016.
Gary Alejano, an opposition member of the House of Representatives, called the joke “insensitive.”
“If you are making a joke on an issue that has cost the lives of thousands of people in your drug war, then what does that say? You also treat peoples’ lives as a joke,” he said.
Mr. Duterte’s allies quickly came to his defense on social media. Vicente Sotto, the president of the Senate, said it was a “very odd” statement for Mr. Duterte to make because marijuana is generally considered to have a calming rather than stimulative effect.
Another political ally, Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, said Mr. Duterte had told him that “he has never taken marijuana his entire life.”
“I use plastic marijuana,” he said.