Since becoming president of the Philippines in June 2016, Rodrigo Duterte has launched a war on drugs that has resulted in the extrajudicial deaths of thousands of alleged drug dealers and users across the country. The Philippine president sees drug dealing and addiction as “major obstacles to the Philippines’ economic and social progress,” says John Gershman, an expert on Philippine politics. The drug war is a cornerstone of Duterte’s domestic policy and represents the extension of policies he’d implemented earlier in his political career as the mayor of the city of Davao. In December 2016, the United States withheld poverty aid to the Philippines after declaring concern over Duterte’s war on drugs.
How did the Philippines’ war on drugs start?
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When Rodrigo Duterte campaigned for president, he claimed that drug dealing and drug addiction were major obstacles to the Philippines’ economic and social progress. He promised a large-scale crackdown on dealers and addicts, similar to the crackdown that he engaged in when he was mayor of Davao, one of the Philippines’ largest cities on the southern island of Mindanao. When Duterte became president in June, he encouraged the public to “go ahead and kill” drug addicts. His rhetoric has been widely understood as an endorsement of extrajudicial killings, as it has created conditions for people to feel that it’s appropriate to kill drug users and dealers. What have followed seem to be vigilante attacks against alleged or suspected drug dealers and drug addicts. The police are engaged in large-scale sweeps. The Philippine National Police also revealed a list of high-level political officials and other influential people who were allegedly involved in the drug trade.
“When Rodrigo Duterte campaigned for president, he claimed that drug dealing and drug addiction were major obstacles to the Philippines’ economic and social progress.”
The dominant drug in the Philippines is a variant of methamphetamine called shabu. According to a 2012 United Nations report, among all the countries in East Asia, the Philippines had the highest rate of methamphetamine abuse. Estimates showed that about 2.2 percent of Filipinos between the ages of sixteen and sixty-four were using methamphetamines, and that methamphetamines and marijuana were the primary drugs of choice. In 2015, the national drug enforcement agency reported that one fifth of the barangays, the smallest administrative division in the Philippines, had evidence of drug use, drug trafficking, or drug manufacturing; in Manila, the capital, 92 percent of the barangays had yielded such evidence.
How would you describe Duterte’s leadership as the mayor of Davao?
After the collapse of the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship, there were high levels of crime in Davao and Duterte cracked down on crime associated with drugs and criminality more generally. There was early criticism of his time as mayor by Philippine and international human rights groups because of his de facto endorsement of extrajudicial killings, under the auspices of the “Davao Death Squad.”
Duterte was also successful at negotiating with the Philippine Communist Party. He was seen broadly as sympathetic to their concerns about poverty, inequality, and housing, and pursued a reasonably robust anti-poverty agenda while he was mayor. He was also interested in public health issues, launching the first legislation against public smoking in the Philippines, which he has claimed he will launch nationally.
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What have been the outcomes of the drug war?
By early December, nearly 6,000 people had been killed: about 2,100 have died in police operations and the remainder in what are called “deaths under investigation,” which is shorthand for vigilante killings. There are also claims that half a million to seven hundred thousand people have surrendered themselves to the police. More than 40,000 people have been arrested.
Although human rights organizations and political leaders have spoken out against the crackdown, Duterte has been relatively successful at not having the legislature engaged in any serious oversight of or investigation into this war. Philippine Senator Leila de Lima, former chairperson of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights and a former secretary of justice under the previous administration, had condemned the war on drugs and held hearings on human rights violations associated with these extrajudicial killings. However, in August, Duterte alleged that he had evidence of de Lima having an affair with her driver, who had been using drugs and collecting drug protection money when de Lima was the justice secretary. De Lima was later removed from her position chairing the investigative committee in a 16-4 vote by elected members of the Senate committee.
What is the public reaction to the drug war?
The war on drugs has received a high level of popular support from across the class spectrum in the Philippines. The most recent nationwide survey on presidential performance and trust ratings conducted from September 25 to October 1 by Pulse Asia Research showed that Duterte’s approval rating was around 86 percent. Even through some people are concerned about these deaths, they support him as a president for his position on other issues. For example, he has a relatively progressive economic agenda, with a focus on economic inequality.
Duterte is also supporting a range of anti-poverty programs and policies. The most recent World Bank quarterly report speaks positively about Duterte’s economic plans. The fact that he wants to work on issues of social inequality and economic inequality makes people not perceive the drug war as a war on the poor.
How is Duterte succeeding in carrying out this war on drugs?
The Philippine judicial system is very slow and perceived as corrupt, enabling Duterte to act proactively and address the issue of drugs in a non-constructive way with widespread violations of human rights. Moreover, in the face of a corrupt, elite-dominated political system and a slow, ineffective, and equally corrupt judicial system, people are willing to tolerate this politician who promised something and is now delivering.
“Drug dealers and drug addicts are a stigmatized group, and stigmatized groups always have difficulty gaining political support for the defense of their rights.”
There are no trials, so there is no evidence that the people being killed are in fact drug dealers or drug addicts. [This situation] shows the weakness of human rights institutions and discourse in the face of a popular and skilled populist leader. It is different from college students being arrested under the Marcos regime or activists being targeted under the first Aquino administration, when popular outcry was aroused. Drug dealers and drug addicts are a stigmatized group, and stigmatized groups always have difficulty gaining political support for the defense of their rights.
How has the United States reacted to the drug war and why is Duterte challenging U.S.-Philippines relations?
It’s never been a genuine partnership. It’s always been a relationship dominated by U.S. interests. Growing up in the 1960s, Duterte lived through a period when the United States firmly supported a regime that was even more brutal than this particular regime and was willing to not criticize that particular government. He noticed that the United States was willing to overlook human rights violations when these violations served their geopolitical interests. He was unhappy about the double standards. [Editor’s Note: The Obama administration has expressed concern over reports of extrajudicial killings and encouraged Manila to abide by its international human rights obligations.] For the first time, the United States is facing someone who is willing to challenge this historically imbalanced relationship. It is unclear what might happen to the relationship under the administration of Donald J. Trump, but initial indications are that it may not focus on human rights in the Philippines. President-Elect Trump has reportedly endorsed the Philippine president’s effort, allegedly saying that the country is going about the drug war "the right way," according to Duterte.
The interview has been edited and condensed.
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Drugs should not be legalized because there would be an increase in
drug abuse due to its availability. Legalized drugs would become cheaper and more
appealing to people who previously had not tried drugs. Addicts who tend to stop, not by
choice, would not stop because drugs would be more accessible if legalized.
The result of drug abuse is thousands of addicts in denial. The good news is that the United States had 286 million dollars and 81,762 drug seizures due to drugs alone,
but the bad news is that the number of prisoners has reached 70 percent which will cost the taxpayers 30 million dollars a year to put them in jail annually. (U.S. Department of
Justice 1996). Also will the drugs have an effect on the worlds future children if made legal. There is a higher possibility of drug abuser parents if drugs are made legal.
For several decades drugs have been one of the major problems of society. There
have been escalating views on the war against drugs and countless dollars spent on
rehabilitation, but the problem still exists. Not only has the problem increased but drug
related problems are on the rise. Drug abuse is a killer in the country. Some are addicts,
while others become users.
Has drug abuse played a part in criminal activity? If so how? What will happen to
our society, if drugs are legalized? Legalization of drugs is not in the future of the country. Why does the idea of legalization appear and reappear when there is so little support for it? Some proponents of legalization are seeking to normalize the behavior of
drug- taking, and many of them are people who use, or have used drugs with little
significant impact. Many proponents are wealthy members of the elite who live in
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Drugs Legalization Of Drugs Significant Impact Made Legal Criminal Activity Addicts Drug Abuse Dollars Availability Seizures
suburbs and have never seen the damage that drugs and violence have bring on poor
An overwhelming majority of Americans are opposed to legalization
of drugs. They understand that many crimes are committed by people using drugs not to
support their habit, but because drugs provoke the user’s criminal nature. The majority of
Americans understand that the crime problem will get worse, not better, if drugs were
more widely available to our society.