President Rodrigo Duterte and the War on Drugs

101116-duterte-pnp-policePresident Duterte won in his presidency on being tough-talking and promising that he will solve the national problems on illegal drugs, crime, and corruption. He is the first president to come from Mindanao. The first president elected directly to President, from being a city mayor. Most of the times, the path to presidency goes through Congress and the Senate. He’s the first president to publicly curse anyone and everyone, from the former US President, the EU, politicians, and even the Pope. His most popular promise is to break the drug ring, arrest the drug lords and eliminate the drug-pushers and drug-users. He is doing his best to keep the promise of bringing this “change”.

Immediately after assuming office, he declared a national war on drugs. He appointed General Ronaldo “Bato” Dela Rosa as Chief of the Philippine National Police and instructed dela Rosa to immediately go after the drug dealers and the shabu laboratories in different parts of the country. These operations resulted in about 3.7 billion pesos (about US$ 185 million) worth of methamphetamine or popularly known as shabu (or poor man’s cocaine) have been intercepted as of January 12, 2017, only. Several local government officials and senior police officers have been implicated in this drug trade.

There is also Operation “Tokhang”-  street language translated as “knock (on the door) and invite”. This strategy produced a list of “known drug personalities” in a village or town with their home addresses. Police would arrive, knock on their houses, and invite them to the police station where they are made to sign documents. The documents state that they will not use or sell drugs anymore, so it’s almost a legal document where the signatory is admitting that he is either a drug dependent or a drug peddler. As of Dec. 2016, a million house-visitations have been done nationwide. More than 40,000  arrests were made and about 890,000 individuals surrendered to police. But the war on drugs has a horrible side-story.

Since the start of his presidency, Duterte has publicly encouraged the police to aggressively pursue and arrest these drug users and drug pushers. He has not been hiding his disgust to these criminals. He said that police should implement their “buy-bust” operations, and if the drug suspects resist arrest or become violent or if the life of the policeman is at risk, then a shoot-to-kill order is understood. Duterte says the police should not hesitate in killing the criminals if they police judges that the situation puts their life at risk. He also promised that he will protect them legally and that he will support them all the way. Many law-enforcement agents have interpreted this as a blanket authority to “shoot-the-drug-suspect”.

bato-dela-rosa-2-620x350-cAfterward, the waves of killings happened. By August 2016, more than 2,200  deaths of drug-related operations were reported. By October 2016, this has climbed to 2,222. The media started noticing the abnormal number of deaths and started what was to become a routine recording of the statistics on deaths.  Human rights groups raised the alarm of extra-judicial killings (EJKs). By December 2016, the number went above 6,000 deaths. Most of these were from very poor communities in urban areas. Very few were middle-class or influential people were victims. The Philippine Catholic Church issued a strong statement last January 2017, reminding the government that “every human life is a gift from God” and that “destroying one’s own life and the life of another is sin and dies evil to society”. They also emphasized that everyone has the potential to change for the better.

Filipinos trust the President, but…

President Duterte enjoys a very high trust rating among Filipinos. When he started as President in July 2016, his net trust rating was 79%, then 76% in September 2016, and settled to 72% in December 2016.  These numbers are still considered as “excellent” by the Social Weather Station (SWS) that conducted the surveys. In another survey released last October 2016, 84% of Filipinos said they are satisfied with the government’s crackdown on illegal drugs. Only eight percent said they are dissatisfied, while the rest are undecided.

This gave Duterte a still “excellent” net satisfaction rating of +76%. However, 7 out of 10 Filipinos stated that it is “very important” for these drug suspects to be caught alive. This reflected the discomfort of Filipinos on how the problem was being handled. By the start of 2017, more than a hundred cases were being compiled at the Commission on Human Rights on the unexplained deaths that couldn’t be linked to drugs. Philippine media also started documenting the cases of innocent victims or “collateral damages” of the “war on drugs” and several times, children were victims. By Feb. 8, 2017, the Supreme Court granted the request of some individuals who stand as witness to these alleged EJKs for their writ of amparo. This writ of amparo is defined by the Philippine Supreme Court as a “remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty, and security is violated or threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity. The writ shall cover extralegal killings and enforced disappearances or threats thereof.”

shabu-batoWhile there is almost universal acceptance in the Philippines that the drug problem must be seriously addressed, there is growing opposition on the methodology of killing the user and the drug-pusher, especially if the rule of law is not followed. Many argue that suspects should be arrested, get their trial in court and then put to jail.  There is also the proposal that rehabilitation of drug dependents must be pursued. Several drug-rehabilitation centers have been constructed and Pres. Duterte has ordered that even military camps and facilities must be used for drug rehabilitation. But he asserts that the drug problem is so big and pervasive that rehabilitation is not enough. Last Jan. 30, 2017, President Duterte ordered the stopping of Oplan Tokhang and disbanded the Anti-Illegal Drug Group (AIDG) of the Philippine National Police, when an “internal cleansing” of the police was instituted. This happened after a high-profile case of the kidnap and murder of a Korean businessman Jee Ick Joo, and pointing to senior police officials as behind the crime. It remains to be seen when the war on drugs will be activated again, but despite the order to stop “Oplan Tokhang” the daily news is little riddled with killings related to the drug problem.

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