The Philippine justice secretary says President Rodrigo Duterte often exaggerates killings of criminals he supposedly carried out in order to send a chilling warning to lawbreakers.

Vitaliano Aguirre II told reporters that Mr Duterte may have been resorting to hyperbole when he suggested in a recent speech that he used to go around his southern city as mayor on a big motorcycle to look for criminals to kill so policemen would emulate him.

Mr Aguirre said the president often uses hyperbole to put his message across.

President Duterte, who took office in June, has been the target of criticism for his brutal crackdown on illegal drugs, which has led to the deaths of more than 2,000 drug suspects in gunbattles with police.

About 3,000 other drug-related killings are being investigated by authorities.

Mr Duterte said in a speech to business executives at the presidential palace on Monday that he used to hunt down criminals himself to set an example.

"In Davao, I used to do it personally. Just to show to the guys that, if I can do it why can't you?" he said.

"I go around in Davao with a motorcycle, with a big bike around and I would just patrol the streets and looking for trouble also. I was really looking for an encounter to be able to kill."

Mr Duterte, however, has repeatedly said that drug suspects were only killed under his anti-drug crackdown as mayor - and now as president, when they fought back and threatened law enforcers.

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