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, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.

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 of these registered users have still lost their lives due to police brutality. These government-led attacks have impacted children and newborns, especially within poverty-stricken areas. The areas that have been most highly targeted are Central Luzon, Calabarzon, and the National Capital Region.

The war on drugs has been met with international condemnation by organizations like the United Nations and various human rights groups. Duterte’s actions have been described as “crimes against humanity” and a recent UN report called for an “independent, impartial, credible investigation into all allegations of serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.” In response, Duterte withdrew the Philippines from the International Criminal Court and has repeatedly rejected the findings from human rights investigations while intensifying his crackdown, claiming that the drug problem has “worsened.” Meanwhile, the death toll continues to climb, and many of the victims and their families have yet to receive justice.


Where: The Philippines

Population: 106.7 million

Deaths: The government officially records 5,104 deaths, but news organizations and human rights groups claim the death toll is over 12,000.

Mayors/Deputies killed: 14

Surrendered drug users: 1.3 million

Drug related arrests:

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

Uninvestigated homicides: more than 16,000 estimated

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 Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines initiated the drug war during his presidential campaign, promising to eradicate drugs from the country.

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 (PDEA) is 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 is 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 target drug suspects, who are believed to be working for President Duterte. Duterte allegedly hires unemployed citizens to help control the country’s drug problem

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 was elected President after serving several terms as the Mayor of Davao City.

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

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

Communist Rebels gave 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, announced they were open to siding with the government and participating in the drug war.

The Communist Party removes their support for Duterte’s Drug war, citing their concerns of extrajudicial killings.

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

The U.S. State Department expressed concern over Duterte meeting his human rights obligations through his violent approach to the drug war.

Following the September 2 bombing in Davao City that left 14 dead, Duterte declared a state of emergency over the whole country. Duterte declared there would be “ensured coordinated efforts” between the government, police, and military against terrorism and drugs.

A Senior PNP Police Officer told The Guardian he is part of a special operative squad responsible for assassinating people on Duterte’s hit list. The unnamed officer said they either dump the bodies, or label them as “drug lord” or “pusher” to deter investigations into the deaths. He claims he killed 87 people since the beginning of Duterte’s presidency.

Duterte revealed his watch list of people participating in the Filipino drug industry, which includes thousands of police officers, mayors, and officials.

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

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

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

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

Duterte claimed he needs more men and brought some PNP officers back into the drug campaign.

A Reuters investigation revealed 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.

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

Bulacan police’s “one-time big-time” drug operation left 32 dead and 107 arrested. 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. 19 year old Carl Angelo Arnaiz and their 14 year-old friend Reynaldo de Guzman were also killed. In response, Human Rights Watch repeated their call for a UN investigation, accusing the PNP of deliberately targeting children.

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

Duterte admitted 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 brought police back into the drug campaign, citing that drug crime is increasing without them.

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

The UN Human Rights Council released 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 was assassinated during a flag raising ceremony. He was the 11th local government official to be killed during the drug war.

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

Senator Trillanes, an outspoken critic of President Duterte, was arrested on charges of rebellion.

Two bombs exploded near a Roman Catholic cathedral in the southern Philippine island of Jolo, which claimed the lives of 15 civilians and five soldiers and wounded 111 others. ISIS later claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Social Weather Station, a social research institution in the Philippines, released their survey findings that 82% of Filipinos were satisfied with Duterte’s drug war. However, 78% were worried that they, or someone they know, might be a victim of extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances. Nevertheless, the National Police Chief of the Philippine, General Oscar Albayalde, questioned the validity of the survey, claiming that “It shouldn’t be surprising that 78 percent are afraid of getting killed. Who isn’t afraid to die, anyway?”


The Philippines formally withdrew from the International Criminal Court after the country’s highest court refused to overrule Duterte’s decision to do so. 

President Duterte announced he would order the police and military to shoot dead anyone “who creates trouble” during COVID-19 lockdowns on the island of Luzon. “Do not intimidate the government. Do not challenge the government. You will lose,” he added.

After the Philippine seized 756kg of crystal methamphetamine, president Duterte issued a grave threat to drug dealers, “I will kill you,” he said. This occurred a day after the UN found “near impunity” in his drug war.

President Duterte signed the Anti-Terrorism Act, which allows for warrantless arrests and for suspects to be jailed without charge for weeks. While the law was intended to prevent and penalize terrorism, human rights groups worry it will be used by Duterte to attack political opponents and restrict free speech.

Duterte announced he wanted to reintroduce the death penalty for drug offenders during his State of the Nation Address.

Reports on the Philippine War on Drugs

For more information and the latest developments on the Philippine War on Drugs, please see the list below for a collection of reports written by our correspondents.

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

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