With Israel’s foreign ministry demanding that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte clarify his remarks comparing himself to Adolf Hitler, Duterte’s spokesman has come to his boss’s defense.

Seeking to douse anger over the remarks, Ernesto Abella said in a statement aired at the state-owned radio station DZRB on Saturday that Duterte had not in any way praised Hitler.

“The Philippines recognizes the deep significance of the Jewish experience especially their tragic and painful history. We do not wish to diminish the profound loss of 6 million Jews in the holocaust, that deep midnight of their story as a people,” Abella said.

“The President’s reference to the slaughter was an oblique deflection of the way he has been pictured as a mass murderer, a Hitler, which is a label that he rejects … He likewise draws an oblique conclusion that while the holocaust was an attempt to exterminate the future generation of Jews, the so-called extrajudicial killings, roundly attributed to him, will nevertheless result in the salvation of the next generation of Filipinos,” Abella said.

The President’s reference to the slaughter was an oblique deflection of the way he has been pictured as a mass murderer, a Hitler, which is a label that he rejects

In a speech after returning from his working visit in Vietnam, Duterte likened himself to the Nazi dictator by saying he would be “happy to slaughter” three million drug addicts.

“If Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have…,” he said pausing and pointing at himself.

“Hitler massacred three million Jews, now there is three million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them … You know, my victims, I would like [them] to be all criminals. [I want] to finish the problem of my country and save the next generation from perdition,” he said.

The remarks shocked and angered U. S-based Jewish groups who called on Washington to take a tougher line with Duterte and demanded he apologize to victims of Holocaust.

“Duterte owes the victims an apology for his disgusting rhetoric,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Digital Terrorism and Hate Project.

Todd Gutnick, director of communications of the Anti-Defamation League, another U.S.-based Jewish group, said it was “baffling why any leader would want to model himself after such a monster.”

He said comparing drug users and dealers to Holocaust victims is “inappropriate and deeply offensive.”

Phelim Kine, Deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, called Duterte’s remarks “on their face obscene.”

“But the lesson of the first three months of Duterte’s presidency is that we should not underestimate the impact of his statements on police and others with firearms to lawlessly slaughter their fellow Filipinos without fear of arrest,” Kine said.

Duterte is waging war against the illegal drug trade. According to him, narcotics are the root of all crimes in the Philippines and eradicating drugs means eradicating crime.

He even vowed to fatten the fish in Manila Bay by killing ten thousand criminals. Now, his target has dramatically risen to three million.

As of September 30, based on television network ABS-CBN’s tally deaths from Duterte’s war on drugs, there had been 1,864 fatalities to date. Of that tally, 1,109 were killed in police operations and 616 by unidentified assailants, while 139 were found wrapped in plastic away from the scene of their demise.

During the Senate investigation on extrajudicial killings, the police failed to present spot reports on every incident in which a suspected drug user or dealer was killed. In most cases, the victims were neither charged in court nor convicted of drug use or participation in the drug trade. The victims, who mostly belonged to the country’s poorest communities, were only suspects whose names had been included on lists drawn up by every town hall.

Police data, meanwhile, showed a slightly lower number, of 1,276 deaths. There was no breakdown of the numbers.

At this rate, the Duterte administration may surpass the 2,800 deaths (based on Human Rights Watch data) in the three-month war on drugs waged by former Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

“Those killings — and the government’s celebration of them as evidence of a successful ‘war on drugs’ — are nothing less than mass killings disguised as ‘crime control’ … Duterte has been consistent in pronouncing that his ‘war on drugs’ will continue, that the police have effective license to kill criminal suspects, and that his administration will turn a blind eye to the shooting of alleged drug users and dealers,” said Kine.

‘Crime against humanity’

Etta Rosales, former head of the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights and a victim during the Martial Law era under dictator Ferdinand Marcos, reminded Duterte that he is treading on dangerous ground.

“He expects us all to accept the possibility that a President can commit crimes against humanity akin to genocide by slaughtering three million poor users and pushers of drugs because as far as Mr Duterte sees them, they are the derelicts of society,” said Rosales.

The Philippines is a signatory to the Rome Statute, which defines the slaughter of millions as a crime against humanity, she said.

Despite admitting that he is a “dictator” during his presidential campaign, Duterte won by a margin of more than eight million votes against second placed Mar Roxas.

The blunt-talking leader captured the hearts of the voters with his strongman promise to eradicate criminality and also corruption in government. His vote indicates that the public wants an end to government by a handful of elites.

The public also seems to have accepted news reports of 10 to 20 daily deaths in the war on drugs as the ‘new normal”, completely forgetting that extrajudicial killings were also rampant 30 years ago.

Even his campaign symbol, an iron fist, indicated how he was going to rule the Philippines.

No wonder he wants to bury Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery). He believes that the former dictator, a Medal of Valor awardee, qualifies due to being a World War II veteran who fought for the country during the Japanese occupation.

Last month, Duterte declared a “state of lawlessness” after an explosion in his hometown that left 14 dead and 67 injured.

The proclamation triggered speculation that it could be a prelude to martial rule, which he had previously threatened to declare when he was at odds with the Chief Justice. The proclamation has not yet been lifted.

In the meantime, Duterte has indicated charting open alliances with China and Russia — which may worsen his country’s ties with Japan, the United States and Vietnam.