Since the violent and bloody war on drugs began in the Philippines, nearly 2,000 people have been murdered, with the full support and encouragement of President Rodrigo Duterte. During his campaign the President vowed that 100,000 criminals, not only drug dealers, would die within the first half of his first year as president. Further campaign rhetoric includes his pledge to “fill Manila Bay with the bodies of thousands of executed suspected criminals.” Since his election, he has likened himself to Adolf Hitler, saying he would be “happy to slaughter” drug addicts. In past speeches, Duterte has encouraged private citizens to murder drug dealers and claimed that the murder of those involved in drugs was legal as long as it was in self self-defence. Peter Laviña, Duterte’s Deputy Cabinet Secretary, claimed that these comments were not intended as factual, claiming, “We say things differently in our own culture, and in our own context.” He proceeded to defend Duterte by claiming “the president’s way of saying things is very unique. The only way you deal with criminals in [this] case is to be tough against them.” This campaign is not merely ‘tough’ but a human rights violation on a massive scale. Duterte is perusing drug dealers specifically, threatening them by saying “Do not destroy my country, because I will kill you.” He has also used extremely callous rhetoric in his speeches, such as “Do the lives of 10 of these criminals really matter? If I am the one facing all this grief, would 100 lives of these idiots mean anything to me?” Implying a lack of moral compass or empathy for his citizens. Duterte has further described the widespread use of drugs as a “pandemic” sweeping the Philippines.
Duterte’s death squads threaten only individuals who participate in the problem at its lowest level, the dealers and the users. At the head of the production and distribution racket are police generals, judges, and high-ranking public officials. Officially, the police have killed 756 people. The government claims that the victims were ‘resisting arrest,’ but this does not explain the bodies found in the poorest parts of the capital city with signs claiming their deaths were because of their involvement in drugs next to them. There are reports of masked gunmen and hired killing squads who have gone free after the murder of criminals. The Deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, Phelim Kine, has described this as “nothing less than an utter human rights catastrophe that’s underway in the Philippines.” Human Rights Watch has a higher figure of the death toll than the BBC, claiming the deaths of 5,000 people have occurred since June 30th, 2016.
It is not in dispute that the Philippines have a large problem with the criminal manufacture and use of crystal meth, an amphetamine known as ‘shabu’ in the Philippines. It is an incredibly addictive drug that is inexpensive to produce. Its use is common especially by poor individuals who live in the slums of Manila and work in manual labor for long hours. The cost of Shabu is only 1,000 Philippine pesos per gram, or £16. This price combined with the industrial labs used for the production of the drug by the ton fosters a large problem, which is then exported throughout Asia.
A senate joint inquiry, led by Senator Leila de Lima, has been formed to investigate the dramatically increased homicide rate. It is hearing from officials and from family members of those murdered. Already two former policy officers have been charged with murder after the Philippines Commission on Human Rights negated the claim that an individual attempted to snatch one of their guns. One Senator claimed that the sheer number of those killed was “alarming” and had “a chilling effect.” In a statement to the senate, Police Director-General dela Rosa claimed that no policy directing the killing of those who abused or sold drug existed. He also defended the police, saying they are “not butchers.” He also claimed that the senate was investigating 40 non-drug related deaths that were attributed to robberies and domestic deputes. Three hundred police officers are suspected of involvement in the drug trade and have been threatened with removal from the force and prison if convicted.
This is not unprecedented for Duterte as, during his tenure as Mayor of Davo, he created an image of callous rhetoric and stands accused of the murder of more than 1,000 people through illegal means. Although he may have perceived this as encouragement, as the overall crime rate of Davao did drop while he was in office. This theme was reiterated by Police Director-General dela Rosa, who claimed that the rate of crime in total had dropped, but that the homicide and murder rate had increased, although he did not say by what percentage. He percieves 700,000 individuals involved in illegal drugs in The Philippines turning themselves in to the police as a victory for this violent movement. He said “I admit many are dying but our campaign, now, we have the momentum.”
President Duterte has not been receptive to conversations with the United States after his election. He told President Barack Obama he could “go to hell” after the United States criticized the violent war on drugs and expressed that it was “deeply concerned” over the killings. The President has also said that he would like to “end joint military exercises with the US.” Even further, he has claimed he would “separate” from the United Nations after the proclamation that the war against drugs as a crime as determined by international law.
Only time will tell when Duterte will end this war on drugs and to what extent The Philippines’ relationships with foreign partners will have deteriorated. For now, it is crucial that the international community continues to denounce his actions.