Duterte’s war on drugs

President of the Philippines continues his all-out war on drugs despite an outcry over human rights violations

By Author   |   Published: 6th Aug 2017   12:01 am Updated: 7th Aug 2017   6:13 pm

Last Sunday, the Philippines police said they fatally shot 15 people, including Reynaldo Parojinog Sr, Mayor of Ozamiz city, who was among the politicians Duterte publicly linked to illegal drugs, in the bloodiest assault so far in Duterte’s anti-drug crackdown.

“He’s a high-value target on illegal drugs,” Ozamiz police chief Jovie Espenido, who oversaw the post-midnight raids, told the media.

Speaking on the raids, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella stressed that “the administration vows to intensify the drug campaign. The Parojinogs, if you would recall, are included in (Duterte’s) list of personalities involved in the illegal drug trade.”

Parojinog, who faced corruption charges, had denied any links to illegal drugs. He was the third mayor to be killed under Duterte’s bloody crackdown on drugs.

Last year, police officers shot dead Albuera town Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr inside a jail cell in the central province of Leyte, and a week before that, another mayor and his nine bodyguards were gunned down allegedly during a firefight on a road in southern Philippines.

All three mayors were among more than 160 officials Duterte named publicly as being linked to illegal drugs in August last year as part of a shame campaign.

Violent Battle

A former mayor of southern Davao city, Duterte employed vigilante militias there and earned the nickname ‘Duterte Harry’ after the crime-busting Clint Eastwood movie character. Duterte expanded his anti-drug crackdown nationwide after taking over as President of the Philippines on June 30, 2016.

While running for president, he promised a similar national strategy against drug dealers and told voters: “Forget the laws on human rights. If I make it to the presidential palace, I will do just what I did as mayor.”

He vowed to rid the country of illegal drugs in three to six months. He repeatedly threatened drug suspects with death by drowning them to fatten the fish in Manila Bay. He swore to execute drug traffickers by hanging, because he didn’t want to waste electricity on them, until their heads were severed from their bodies.

Duterte has also declared to defend policemen who would face criminal and human rights charges while cracking down on illegal drugs. Though he has missed his campaign deadline, he has vowed not to stop until the last drug dealer in the country has been eliminated.

His anti-drug campaign dubbed ‘Operation Double Barrel’ has lethally targeted suspected drug dealers and users. The Philippines police claim that nearly 5,000 suspects have died so far, including 3,151 in reported gun battles with police and 1,847 others in drug-related attacks.

This notorious ‘war on drugs’ has been extraordinarily bloody and human rights groups claim a higher death toll of 7,000 to 9,000 and have called for an independent investigation of Duterte’s possible role in the violence.

Wide criticism

Duterte “has unleashed a human rights calamity on the Philippines in his first year in office,” US-based Human Rights Watch stated. The drug killings have also been widely criticised by Western governments, which have called for an end to what they suspect were extrajudicial killings.

Jose Manuel Diokno, head of the Free Legal Assistance Group of lawyers documenting the killings and assisting victims, said Duterte’s campaign has been devastating, especially for the poor, who have been the majority of victims.

“There is going to be a long-lasting impact of this war on drugs,” he said. “Whenever people are encouraged to take the law into their own hands, it’s not just lives that are lost but the legal system itself is losing its meaning and value in our society.”

Nonetheless, the onslaught continues to be supported by a majority of the local population. Many Filipinos exasperated with widespread crime have embraced Duterte’s unorthodox leadership style, profanity-laced outbursts, welcomed his tough approach and rewarded him with sky-high approval ratings.

No Backing Off

When then US President Barack Obama, along with European Union and UN rights officials, raised an alarm over the mounting deaths, Duterte lashed out at them, telling Obama to “go to hell.”

In fact, instead of changing track, international criticism has made Duterte more steadfast in his cleansing campaign. He has raised the rhetoric over his bloody anti-crime war to a new level comparing it to Hitler and the Holocaust and saying he would be “happy to slaughter” three million addicts.

He said he had been “portrayed or pictured to be a cousin of Hitler,” and added “Hitler massacred three million Jews. There are three million drug addicts. There are. I’d be happy to slaughter them.”

Duterte has stated that his public death threats against drug suspects are designed to scare them to stop selling drugs and discourage would-be users adding that his targets are “all criminals” and that getting rid of them would “finish the (drug) problem of my country and save the next generation from perdition.”

Reacting critically, Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director for Human Rights Watch, said it was baffling why anyone would want to compare themselves to “one of the largest mass murderers in human history. In today’s context, Hitler would be accused of crimes against humanity. Is that what Duterte wants? Does he want to be sent to the international criminal court? Because he’s working his way there.”

Duterte has lashed out at all finding fault with his methods, saying European countries were hypocrites for not doing enough to help the large numbers of refugees fleeing from the violence in the Middle East.

“There are migrants escaping from the Middle East. You allow them to rot and then you’re worried about the deaths of about 1,000, 2,000, 3,000,” he said calling critics from the European Union a “group of idiots in the purest form.”

UN Intervention

Agnes Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, told a forum in Manila that badly thought out policies not only fail to address drug abuse and trafficking, they also compound the problems and “can foster a regime of impunity infecting the whole justice sector and reaching into whole societies, invigorating the rule of violence rather than law.”

“In 2016, the General Assembly of the world’s government recognised explicitly that the ‘war on drugs’ — be it community-based, national or global — does not work,” Callamard said.

She pointed out that UN member countries, in their joint commitment to counter the world drug problem, called instead for a multi-faceted and scientific approach that promotes the dignity and human rights of individuals and communities.

She said poorly conceived policies escalate problems, including extrajudicial killings, slayings by criminal gangs, vigilante crimes, detention in rehabilitation centres without trial or evaluation and the breakdown of the rule of law.

But the change of regime in the US has brought in glowing praise for Duterte. In an April phone call, President Donald Trump praised Duterte for doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem. Many countries have the problem, we have the problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that,” said Trump, according to a transcript of the call that has meant that the cleansing campaign continues unhindered.