Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ was meant to clean up the Philippines – it’s terrorising millions instead

By James Moules

‘Extrajudicial killings’ – even the most cursory observer of the Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drugs crusade will no doubt be familiar with this euphemism.

Some more suitable terms? State-sanctioned police brutality. Unlawful executions. Murder. 

Redaction Politics spoke to Karapatan, a human rights alliance in the Philippines, to discuss Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ and the effect it has had on the nation and its people.

A spokesperson for the organisation said: “There is no war against drugs, only a war against poor Filipinos. Duterte’s drug war has been a failure and it is largely deficient in many aspects.”

Rodrigo Duterte stormed to power 2016’s election, running a populist campaign in which he stood out from the crowd by presenting himself as an anti-establishment everyman.

He became notorious for issuing outrageous comments, including offensive remarks about rape and indulging in homophobic and misogynistic rhetoric.

Karapatan’s spokesperson said: “Duterte anchored his game plan on the people’s increasing discontent over the liberal party and all existing political players. 

“Thus, he seemed like an ‘alternative’. 

“When the campaign season was ongoing for the 2016 Presidential elections, Duterte’s outrageous remarks and curses were taken lightly, as if the expletives made him more relatable and different from the prim, proper, and polite elite who have long dominated Filipino politics. 

“Many organizations already warned of his militarist policies and women organizations and personalities already cried foul against his many verbal attacks and innuendos that belittle women or reinforce the idea that they were objects. 

“Yet, most of this were side-lined because he was so popular. 

“He resonated with the people with his promises against corruption, against contractual work, against criminality (none of which have been kept). 

“His expletives and threats were mistaken for political will, and he was often compared to “strongmen” in Asia, like Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore.”

The so-called ‘war on drugs’ has been one of Duterte’s flagship initiatives.

The Philippines does not exercise the death penalty, yet Duterte endorsed the killing of drug users as part of this crusade.

Indeed, he claims to have personally killed suspects in his time as mayor of Davao  City.

Karapatan says that this ‘war on drugs’ is nothing more than a top-down assault on the poorest sectors of Filipino society. 

“Its effects have been to terrorize urban poor communities and promote police impunity. 

“It has resulted to the gross violation of people’s right to due process, among other civil and political rights. 

“It has also resulted to widespread impunity where the police and other State forces are shielded by this government. 

“It has further led to the lack of transparency as those looking to file cases or would want information on drug war operations are being ignored or denied access altogether. 

“The drug war has perpetrated more human rights violations without getting an inch closer to resolving the drug trade in the country. 

“The drug war has led to thousands of deaths, with irreparable damages to the lives of many Filipino families. 

“It has resulted to children being orphaned and an overall distorted view about human rights.”

In a report published in July of this year, Amnesty International stated that the government acknowledged that the police had killed some 6,600 people.

Amnesty International also asserted that evidence suggests the true figure may be even greater.

In November, Duterte appointed Vice President Leni Robredo – a member of the opposition Liberal Party – to co-chair the Inter-agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD).

She is a staunch critic of Duterte’s drug war and has called for an end to the killings.

While in the position, she issued demands for increased transparency and access to intelligence information.

However, after a mere 18 days in the role, Duterte dismissed her, although Karapatan says she is due to issue a report on her findings during this brief stint.

“The supposed appointment of Robredo could expose the corruption, human rights violations, circumvention of laws, abuse of powers, and lies peddled by Duterte and his cohorts in the conduct of this campaign’s implementation. 

“It can reveal the whitewashing and the extent of impunity of this campaign. Robredo was kicked out of the ICAD after only 18 days, but she is set to release a report on her findings. 

“This has the potential of proving that many of the extrajudicial killings are State-perpetrated and belie the “nanlaban” narrative that justifies the killings of victims. 

“Nanlaban” means the victims fought back that is why the police were forced to draw their guns to kill.”

In a statement, Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, said: “We voice out our support for Robredo to reveal the things she discovered, especially if it adds to the evidence that the killings were State-perpetrated. 

“However, we reiterate that firing Robredo would not save Duterte and his cohorts from investigation; it will not save them from their accountability in the numerous irregularities and abuses in this regime’s sham drug war.”

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