Newly elected President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs has continued to escalate. One account has said that over 600 people have died since his Duterte’s inauguration on June 30th, but another puts the total closer to 1,000.
The killings have targeted drug dealers, users, and pushers with many having been mercilessly gunned down in the street left only with a cardboard sign identifying them by their crime.
One image that has gone viral shows Michael Siaron in the arms of his partner Jennilyn Olayres nearby a sign reading ‘pusher’, after being murdered by an unidentified gunman on July 23rd, according to the photographer, Raffy Lerma, who took the shot. Despite Olayres insisting that Michael Siaron was just a pedicab driver, Duterte showed little sympathy, even using it as a warning; ‘You [will] end up sprawled on the ground and you are portrayed in a broadsheet like Mother Mary cradling the dead cadaver of Jesus Christ. Well that’s very dramatic’.
With bloodied bodies consuming the streets of the Philippines, a climate of fear has been instilled in the citizens – many of whom are kids in their 20s walking around wearing signs begging not to be mistaken for a drug dealer and killed.
Duterte has even taken on officials. In a conference, the President read aloud 150 names connected to the drug world. This list of names includes high-profile judges, police generals, military officials, more than 50 mayors and local officials, and even three others thought to be current or former members of congress. Duterte had given them 24 hours to turn themselves in before they were going to be searched for and gunned down by his army. In a national address, Duterte declared that the officials he accused would be given the chance to appear in court, but added that his ‘mouth has no due process’.
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno of the Supreme court had expressed caution to seven judges that had appeared on Dutere’s list, strongly urging them against ‘surrendering’ or ‘making themselves physically accountable to any police officer in the absence of any issued warrant of arrest’. The court had also announced that it would directly investigate any allegations of the judges’ connection to the drug trade themselves.
Duterte swiftly responded with an angry warning, telling her not to interfere with his campaign to bring an end to the Philippine’s ‘pandemic’ drug problem, or he would declare martial law. Following this, the President reiterated himself in a meeting at the presidential palace, saying; ‘I don’t care about human rights, believe me.’
However, the former Justice Secretary, Senator Leila De Lima raised questions over how the list was prepared and who the President’s sources were. This comes after the list of officials was held in great scrutiny once it was found that many names on the list came from people who had either never held office, had been long dead, or never existed at all.
The UN anti-drugs office joined international rights organisations like the Human Rights Watch in condemning the killings, with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime stating that they remain ‘greatly concerned by the reports of extrajudicial killings of suspected drug dealer and users’.
The killings have been met with disdain from leaders all across the world and the Philippines itself. Catholic leader Archbishop Socrates Villegas condemned the killings, saying, ‘I am in utter disbelief…This is too much to swallow’ and earlier this month, the US also expressed concerns over the killings but was only met with frustration from Duterte who responded by calling the US ambassador to the Philippines ‘gay’, and a ‘son of whore’.
Yet, despite receiving heavy criticism, Duterte remained dedicated to his plans. In the State of the Nation speech, the President said, ‘Double your efforts. Triple them, if need be. We will not stop until the last drug lord, the last financer, and the last pusher have surrendered or are put behind bars – or below ground, if they so wish’. The President has even expressed explicit support for vigilantes on killing sprees.
Other political parties have also been quick to condemn the President. The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) labelled Duterte’s anti-drug war as a ‘frenzied campaign for extrajudicial killings and vigilante murders’. They added that ‘the rights of tens upon thousands of people are being violated as the criminal justice system is upturned.
The CPP and other critics argue that Duterte’s war on drugs in bound the fail because his approach is not addressing the socio-economic roots of the problem.
Despite Duterte’s approach appearing to work, with as many as 600,000 drug dealers and users turning themselves in, it has led to the overcrowding of prisons. Images from a jail in Manila show a facility built to house 800 people holding just over 3,800. Conditions within prisons are left compromised with reports finding that prisoners are having to take turns to sleep on the group and contagious diseases are spreading like wildfire.
Shockingly however, President Duterte’s approval rating have soared to 91% – higher than the original 39% he initially received on Election Day. A lot of Duterte’s popularity is stemming from his title ‘action man’, as he has done exactly what he had promised: reduced crime. According to statistics, the average monthly crime rate has gone down by 11.5% since last year, and the percentage of solved cases went up from 51.3% to 57.3%.
So, it seems as though President Rodrigo Duterte will continue to wage war against drugs and the bloodletting is an unfortunate inevitable. Even the Philippines’ allies are too afraid to interfere, as Duterte has already shown that he is unwilling to compromise his plans.