During his recent State of the Nation Address, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte promised to continue his war on drugs. Duterte, 72, vowed that the war would continue, despite a death toll above 7,000, and it has only been just over a year since Duterte has taken office.
Duterte who entered office at the end of June last year came to power based on his promise to be hard on drugs, a problem that has been rampant within the nation for years.
Duterte’s no tolerance attitude towards drugs stems from his time as the mayor of Davao City, where he enacted similar violent policies. On December 14, 2016, Duterte recounted his hands-on approach as mayor when saying that, “In Davao[,] I used to [kill suspected criminals] personally. Just to show to the [police officers] that if I can do it, why can’t you.”
While his press secretary later went on to say that he was boasting, it is this bravado and the grim, but tangible results that have many in the Philippines supporting the president’s policies.
However, the actions have also proved to be highly divisive, with thousands of protesters marching in the capital, Manila to demand greater accountability for the president. Riot police stood by during the protest, but no violence broke out between the sides.
In addition to some local dissent, many groups and governments outside the Philippines, including Human Rights Watch, have condemned his actions. HRW Deputy Asia Director, Phelim Kine gave scathing criticism by stating that “President Duterte took office promising to protect human rights, but has instead spent his first year in office as a boisterous instigator for an unlawful killing campaign.”
Yet, in spite of the criticism, his government has received for the violent means they employ, Duterte shows no signs of changing policy anytime soon. For instance, “Despite international and local pressures, the fight will not stop until those who deal in it understand that they have to cease,” he said. “They have to stop because the alternatives are either jail or hell,” he added.
Since the speech has taken place, on July 30th another local mayor in the Philippines (who had been accused by Duterte of drug links) was killed in a shootout with police. The death of the mayor marks the third mayor to have been killed by police in drug-related violence.
The purges made by Duterte appear to have no end in sight and while many outside the nation remain critical, the drug war has solidified Duterte’s internal standing.
Duterte’s exceedingly authoritarian regime appears to be following an ongoing trend around the globe where many feel that the normal centrist democratic governments have let their citizens down, both economically and in terms of safety. As a result, a trend for extremist governments with an authoritarian leader, who will not think twice about stricter means of maintaining ‘peace,’ has begun popping up in many nations. With that said, Duterte’s blase attitude to the death of his own citizens illustrates that he is one step away from becoming the next in a long line of Filipino dictators who have long put their own needs and egos above the welfare of their citizens.