The Philippine Drug War


Photo from NPR

William Rantis

Duterte’s war on drugs is a controversial one. During Duterte’s presidency, many drug dealers and drug users have been killed. When faced with the possibility of an ICC (International Criminal Court) investigation, Duterte withdrew the Philippines from the court. Despite high death counts and international condemnation, Duterte continues to be popular in the Philippines, with an approval rating of 74%.

Duterte’s drug war has killed a large number of people. The exact number is difficult to pinpoint, as the Philippine government has not released documents which would confirm their numbers, but claim that 4,948 drug dealers or drug users have been killed in police operations. This is an alarmingly high figure in itself, but this figure does not include killing not committed by police, such as the vigilante killings of drug dealers and users. 20,000 people have been killed by unidentified gunmen, with a significant portion being drug related killings.

Duterte’s reign is troubling, especially as Duterte has had a significant role to both police and extrajudicial killings. He has protected police officers from prosecution, except when public outcry got too large. Some of the gunmen also appear to have ties to law enforcement, which makes it more likely that they are working with police to kill users and dealers. Police officers who’ve spoken to news sources say they’ve been paid secretly at their headquarters for the killing of drug dealers and users, while hit men also report an increase in jobs targeting suspected drug users and dealers. While violent crime in general has decreased, the murder rates have tripled.

Drugs are a large problem for the Philippines. In 2016, police seized over 1,500 kilograms of Methamphetamine, but that is just a small drop in the bucket compared to the overall amount being sold. Drugs are usually supplied by Chinese people, who export both Meth and the machinery to produce it into the Philippines. Philippine police have shut down Philippine located labs, some of which have the capacity to produce Meth at a truly industrial scale, up to 200 kilograms of Meth per day. China has worked with the Philippines to stem the flow, but so far has offered only limited support, working with the Philippines on a case by case basis.

Support for Duterte is strong because of knowledge of the scope of the problem with drug use and proliferation, which Duterte worked to advance to the forefront of Philippine politics. “If you destroy the youth of my land, I will kill you”, Duterte said as he opened the Mega Drug Abuse Treatment and Rehabilitation Center. Duterte’s popularity is likely attributed to the fact that he has presided over a good economy, has fought corruption, and has views that are similar to that of ordinary Filipinos. This attitude, though unpopular abroad, is supported by a large minority; sometimes executions are necessary to curb drug distribution and abuse. Arman, a Filipino construction worker who was interviewed by The Globe Post, said “There are too many drug addicts now, they should really be killed.”

This view comes from a lack of trust in judicial processes. Local leaders, such as mayors, have occasionally also been drug lords. With their connections to the local government and the criminal community, such mayors have managed to avoid prosecution. Reynaldo Parojinog, former mayor of Ozamiz city, had been accused of drug trafficking by the president, but used his connections to avoid being convicted. He was killed, however, when the police raided his home, killing him, his wife, and four other local officials tied to him.

There are no easy solutions to the drug war. Rehabilitation facilities exist, but currently are insufficient for the hundreds of thousands of drug users who have turned themselves in. The president does have popular support in the Philippines, so change can only happen at a grassroots level, by petitioning for more funding for rehabilitation, and vocally opposing the drug war. Duterte’s term ends in 2022, so if Filipinos want to end these killings, they’ll have to vote against it themselves.