Philippine election candidate and former boxing champion Manny Pacquiao said he was naive to take the drug crystal meth in his youth, but now supports a tough line on drug abusers.
Outgoing Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte became internationally renowned in 2016 for a zero tolerance policy on the narcotics trade, but critics said his harsh anti-drug crackdowns resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent people in extrajudicial killings.
President Duterte is now facing an international investigation into the alleged abuses.
Mr Pacquiao, who retired from boxing in September to file his candidacy for the 2022 elections, has previously criticised Mr Duterte’s policy.
"We have to put in jail those who are using drugs, selling drugs – that's what the law says," he told AFP. But crackdowns on drug users and dealers had to be done "in the right way".
"Before, I'm naive, that's why I use drugs. I don't know the law," said Mr Pacquiao, 42. Today, "people, they know already that the law is not allowing the illegal drugs", he said.
Mr Pacquiao, who currently holds a seat in the Senate and previously served two terms in Congress, faces tough competition in the forthcoming vote despite his well-known boxing career.
Duterte drugs row
Mr Pacquiao's comments could revive a national debate on the war against drugs, set to be a critical issue in the run up to the February 2022 vote.
On Friday, the office of Mr Duterte declined to disclose the identity of an election candidate accused by the president of using cocaine, shifting the onus back to Mr Duterte to name the individual himself.
Mr Duterte, 76, who is barred by the constitution from seeking a second term, described the unnamed candidate as a "very weak leader" and someone who "might win hands down."
Dozens of people have registered to run for president, the most prominent of which are boxing icon Manny Pacquiao, Vice President Leni Robredo, Manila mayor Francisco Domagoso, Senator Panfilio Lacson, Duterte's closest aide Christopher Go, and Ferdinand Marcos Jr, son and namesake of the late dictator, whose running mate is Mr Duterte's daughter.
Mr Pacquiao on Friday said he supported drug testing candidates. "Mandatory drug test must be required for anyone who wants to work in government, elective or appointed," he said in a statement.