By Shannen Young
The “war on drugs” has taken a new turn in the Philippines with recently elected President Rodrigo Duterte. Since he took office on June 30 2016, an estimated 2,300 people have been slain in connection to drugs (in particular methamphetamine, locally known as shabu), of which 1,566 people were killed through police operations. Local officials in the Barangay Anti-Drug Action Committees (BADACs) have aided police in identifying drug dealers and users in communal districts in the Philippines by submitting lists of suspected ‘criminals.’ These lists are then used to target suspects into surrendering to police, or result in their imprisonment and possible death. Duterte has also increased military and police service expenditures in an executive order signed at the end of September. In addition to the targeted hits by police, there have been reports of extrajudicial killings of individuals suspected of being involved in the narcotic industry. These killings may have been spurred by Duterte’s outspoken presence in the media, criticizing drug users and reportedly stating “there are three million drug addicts [in the Philippines]. I’d be happy to slaughter them. . . You know my victims. I would like [them] to be all criminals to finish the problem of my country and save the next generation from perdition.” It is no wonder with rhetoric such as this that human rights organizations and the international community are gravely concerned about the direction of Duterte’s war on drugs. The combination of utilizing local community leaders, increasing military expenditure, and publicly denouncing drug users and dealers, presents a strategized plan to “finish the problem.”
But is the new drug policy overseen by Duterte just a drastic step towards ridding society of harmful substance abuse, or is it part of a broader plan to forge a new ‘cleansed’ nation? Many of the public speeches by the President invoke nationalist rhetoric in order to instigate a necessity to rid the Philippines of drug abuse, often invoking violent and tasteless imagery; this has led to him being compared to Hitler by international media outlets. These speeches are utilizing the public’s frustration with substance abuse to possibly incite the masses to inform on, and engage in, further extrajudicial killings of drug users and dealers. Furthermore, Duterte has been hypercritical of international powers, threatening the United States and the United Nations not to interfere in the Philippine’s “domestic challenges.” This defence of drug policies on the international stage suggests a shift in political relations for the Philippines— especially in regards to observing due process. Failure to follow due process for criminal offences and allowing extrajudicial killings to continue could result in the International Criminal Court (ICC) seeking prosecution against Duterte. An increase in foreign antagonism, nationalist rhetoric, military and police expenditure, and propaganda suggest a political shift towards nationalist tendencies rather than merely a harsh drug policy. However, if killings of drug dealers and users continues under the watch of the Philippine National Police and government, when is the appropriate time to stop calling it a “war on drugs,” and start viewing it as possible crimes against humanity?
By Shannen Young