The Philippine War on Drugs


The Philippine War on Drugs refers to the violence inflicted upon suspected drug affiliates by President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration. Duterte has enforced a hard stance on eradication over rehabilitation when dealing with the crisis. Since his inauguration in June 2016, thousands of people have been killed by police in drug raids, and by unnamed vigilante killers who are rumoured to be executing drug users on behalf of the President. As a result, the war on drugs in the Philippines has made the country the fourth most dangerous in the world.

The Philippine National Police have been accused of staging murders by planting drugs and weapons on their victims.  While drug users are given the option of registering with authorities in exchange for safety. Many registered users have lost their lives due to police brutality. These government-led attacks have impacted children and newborns, specially within poverty-stricken areas. These extrajudicial killings expanded into General Santos, Cebu, Cavite, Laguna and Bulacan. The United Nations launched a new review into the war on drugs in late 2019, looking into Duterte’s actions. Drug supply is still increasing as more people are being killed by the police.


Where: The Philippines

Population: 106.7 million

Deaths: Estimates over 29,000 (March, 2019)

Mayors/Deputies killed: 14

Surrendered drug users: 1.3 million

Drug related arrests:

  • High valued arrests: 8,185
  • Drug suspects arrested: 220,728

Un-investigated homocides: more than 16,000

Drug users in the Philippines: estimated between 1.8 to 4 million

Seized methamphetamine: 40.39 billion pesos ($796m)  seized by police



Key actors

President Duterte of the Philippines who initiated the Drug War under a promise to eradicate drugs from the country. He has a list of drug suspects who are targeted for arrest; however, many of the accused lost their lives instead. Duterte’s Drug War developed outside of the capital of Manila. These extrajudicial killings expanded into General Santos, Cebu, Cavite, Laguna and Bulacan.

The Philippine National Police are the main participants in executing Duterte’s drug campaign through their 190,000 officers. The PNP have been accused of corruption throughout the entire Drug War, even by President Duterte himself.

The Philippine Drugs Enforcement Agency are responsible for investigating, preventing and combatting drug use in the Philippines through their Drug Enforcement Officers. All other units carrying out anti-drug operations (like the PNP) must co-operate with the PDEA. The PDEA existed before the Duterte’s Drug War and have been operating since 2002. While there are much less corruption allegations against them compared to the PNP, they have admitted to targeting poor drug personalities who are likely to lose in court.

The Armed Forces have been a part of the Drug War since February 2017, to replace the PNP while they were under investigation. They have a battalion-sized force targeting high level drug personalities. Although the PNP have returned to the Drug War, the Military’s presence remains.

The National Bureau of Investigation are a government department responsible for investigating and targeting high profile cases through their Task Force against Illegal Drugs (TFAID). They work alongside the PNP, PDEA and the military.

The unidentified vigilantes refer to the killers who targeted drug suspects. They were believed to be working for President Duterte. This plan allegedly involved Duterte hiring the unemployed to help control the drug problem within the Philippines.

The government’s target: drug lords, distributers and users. Thousands have been killed, however many people who are not associated with drugs have been caught in the crossfire, including children.  There has been no violent retaliation from the Philippine drug community.

The United Nations Humans Rights Council began investigating President Duterte’s Drug War in July 2019 under suspected extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and crimes against humanity.

Timeline of the crisis

Rodrigo Duterte of the The Partido Demokratiko Pilipino political party is elected President after serving several terms as the Mayor of Davao City.

Duterte urges Communist Rebels (New People’s Army) and civilians to kill drug lords and drug users.

The Philippine National Police announce they have killed 30 people in drug raids in the three days since Duterte became president.

Communist Rebels give their New People’s Army permission to fight in the Drug War alongside Duterte’s forces.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, The Philippines’ largest Islamic rebel group, announces they are open to siding with the government and participating in the drug war.

Duterte accuses the Taiwanese Triad of smuggling drugs into the Philippines, emphasising he does not blame China for this. China shows their support by saying they will not protect their national criminals in the Philippines. Despite the claim, no overt action is taken against the Triad.

The Communist Party removes their support in Duterte’s Drug war due to the extrajudicial killings.

Duterte threatens to leave the UN after their human rights experts ask him to stop giving vigilantes permission to kill drug suspects on his behalf.

The U.S State Department expresses concern over Duterte meeting his human rights obligations through his violent approach to the Drug War.

Duterte declares a state of lawlessness in Davao City to coordinate the efforts of the Government, Police and Military against terrorism and the drug war. This was motivated by a bombing in Davao City the day before.

President Duterte declares Davao City in a state of emergency.   

A former hitman testifies against Duterte, claiming he killed at least 50 people while being a part of Duterte’s Death Squad while Duterte was the Mayor of Davao City.

President Duterte claims that his drug war is like the Holocaust at a press conference in Vietnam.  “Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now there are three million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them” he said.

A Senior Police Officer from the PNP admits to The Guardian he is a part of ten special operative squads, each with 16 members, responsible for killing people on Duterte’s hit list. The unnamed officer said they either dump the bodies, or label them as “drug lord” or “pusher” in order to deter investigators from looking into it. He claims he killed 87 people himself since Duterte’s presidency began.

Duterte reveals his watch list of people participating in the Filipino Drug Industry, highlighting that the list includes 6,000 Police Officers, Mayors and officials. The list works as a bribe for people affiliated with drugs to register with police to avoid death.

Mayor of Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Samsudin Dimaukom, and his five body guards are killed by police after Dimaukom was featured on the drug suspect list. Ampatuan claimed he fully supported Duterte’s crack-down on drugs, and fought against them personally.

The U.S halts the sale of 2,600 rifles to the PNP because of human rights concerns.

An investigation by Reuters reveals that 97% of people police have shot in the drug war have been killed, despite only having permission to shoot in self-defense. They also uncover that only one officer dies for every 118 suspects, and the extremely similar accounts given by police for different drug raid shootings.

The UN Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights release a report stating there is no legitimate proof that the Filipino Government is conducting extrajudicial executions to eradicate their drug problem.

Amnesty International reveal further PNP corruption in their report: “If you are poor you are killed”: Extrajudicial Executions in the Philippines’ “War on Drugs.”

Under pressure from human rights groups, Duterte pulls the police out of the drug war, leaving operations to the Philippine Drugs Enforcement Agency with support from The Armed Forces of the Philippines (the military).

  • Retired police officer Arturo Lascañas reveals he was a part of Duterte’s Death Squad, detailing that they were paid for every “hit”, and how their targets stretched beyond drug related killings to people who were critical of Duterte.  Lascañas says he killed approximately 200 under Duterte while he was Mayor of Davao City.

Thousands gather in Manila to protest for and against Duterte’s drug war on the 31st anniversary of the Philippines pro-democracy movement.

Duterte claims he needs more men and brings some PNP officers back into the drug campaign.

Almost 50 states voiced concern about the Drug War’s extrajudicial killings at a U.N. Rights Council meeting.

A Reuters investigation reveals police have been intentionally rushing drug suspect victims who are already dead to hospital as an excuse to hide the bodies and tamper with the crime scene.

Mayor of Ozamiz City Reynaldo Parojinog, his wife, and 13 others were killed by police in an early morning raid of his home. Police claim they were there on a search warrant and found drugs and excessive weaponry in the residence.

Bulacan police’s “one-time big-time” drug operation leave 32 people dead. Police also arrest 107 people. Among the fatalities was 17 year old Kian delos Santos. His death caused controversy as Police accounts did not match CCTV footage and witness statements of the incident. Police claim Santos pulled out a firearm when he saw the police, and so they acted in self-defence and shot him. A 13 year-old witness claimed he saw Santos being jumped and beaten before being dragged away. CCTV footage confirms this, showing the unarmed boy being hauled by the men to where his body was later found. The account and the video footage also show the Officers were not in uniform, disproving that Santos intentionally shot at police. 19 year old Carl Angelo Arnaiz and their 14 year-old friend Reynaldo de Guzman were also killed, leading to the Human Rights Watch repeating their call for a U.N. investigation on the grounds of the PNP deliberately targeting children.

Hundreds of people march against the extrajudicial killings in the drug war at Kian delos Santos’ funeral.

62 Caloocan Police Officers are fired in response to the youth killings. Philippine’s National Capital Region Police Director Oscar Albayalde ordered the department re-ordering to show they do not stand for police crime.

Duterte makes the Philippine Drugs Enforcement Agency the only participant in carrying out the drug campaign.

Duterte admits to stabbing someone to death as a teenager at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Vietnam to justify his administration’s violent approach to cracking down on drugs.

Duterte brings all police back into the drug campaign believing that drug crime is increasing without them.

Mayor of Tanauan, Antonio Halili, is assassinated at a Flag ceremony.  While he was an open supporter of Duterte’s campaign, he has been linked to drugs himself. The shooter remains unidentified.

Chief of the Philippine National Police Ronald deal Rosa retires. Oscar Albayalde replaces him, and promises to maintain many of the policies of his predecessor—particularly the Oplan Double Barrel efforts to capture those who sell illegal drugs.

The number of people killed in anti-drug operations nearly doubles from the previous month.

The UN Human Rights Council releases a joint statement supported by 38 member states calling on the Philippines and President Duterte to stop the killings and abuses of the drug war.

Tanauan mayor Antioni Hall is assassinated during a flag raising ceremony. He is the 11th local government official to be killed during the drug war.

Families of drug war victims file a second petition to the International Criminal Court calling for the indictment of President Duterte due to his crimes against humanity undertaken during the drug war.

President Duterte order Philippine senator Antonio Trillanes to be arrested. An outspoken critic of the president, Trillanes says he will not resist the arrest.

Senator Trillanes is officially arrested on charges of rebellion. He will not receive clemency.

How can you help?

Donate to Amnesty International or the Human Rights Watch, two NGOs who have been instrumental in pressuring on the Philippine Government and the United Nations to end the Drug War through research reports and investigative journalism

Leave a Reply