Bucknell Institute for Public Policy (BIPP): Drug war revival: President Duterte and the Philippines

Jackson Pierce, Contributing Writer

Newly elected 16th President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, has lived an action-packed 72 years. Upon his election as Davao City mayor in 1988, Duterte became immensely popular among constituents, in spite of crude homophobic and sexist jokes made in public speeches.

Though his humor would suggest otherwise, Duterte actually supports women’s and LGBT rights on paper. As mayor, Duterte implemented a program designed to improve political opportunities for women in 2007; he banned bikini contests in Davao City beauty pageants, finding them exploitative.

Duterte rose to the presidency in 2016 after promising that he would cure the Philippines of a drug crisis in three to six months. Since then, he has openly urged armed citizens to kill drug dealers and users. He has also authorized the use of deadly force on those who resist arrest and promised accolades to those who bring in drug kingpins.

As mayor, Duterte faced scrutiny from the Humans Rights Watch, regarding Davao’s high rates of extrajudicial killings. The president has shown little sympathy for those forced into crime by circumstance, publicly claiming, “Just because you are poor, you are excused from apprehension? Rich or poor, I do not give a s****. My order is to destroy… Don’t go into the drug business, I will kill you … I will really kill you.”

Duterte has also given conflicting reports regarding his involvement in a loosely organized group known as the Davao Death Squad (DDS). The DDS are hit men who use publicly available information to track down and kill those involved in the drug trade.

Most reports suggest that the number of drug war casualties since Duterte’s June 2016 inauguration is over 6,000, with vigilante groups responsible for the majority. According to a December 2016 poll by a Philippine research group, 78 percent of those questioned fear that they or someone they know will be killed by Duterte’s operations. Yet the same survey reports that 85 percent of Filipinos are still satisfied with the operations.

Perhaps many people feel they have no other options. In a USA Today article, Philippine Senator Richard Gordon is quoted as saying “the whole prosecution … [and] investigation system is rotten. There’s not enough money for more investigators … [and] crime laboratories. There’s too many passes being issued to people who do crime, and that’’s what gives them impunity.” The lack of stability contributes to an atmosphere of distrust and fear, in which few civilians are willing to testify about crimes committed by civilians or police. Groups like DDS, who have obtained Duterte’s blessing, are able to cut through this red tape.

Duterte’s policies present the illusion of efficacy, as crime rates have decreased significantly since his election. According to the Philippine National Police, robbery, assault, rape, and theft have dropped, but murders rose 51.14 percent, notably excluding the murders committed by his officers.

If your goal is to systematically oppress an entire population, then there’s no better way to do so than through a drug war. If your goal is to keep drugs off the streets, well, keep trying.

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