Duterte’s ‘War On Drugs’ Kills Philippines Most Vulnerable


Philippines president, Rodrigo Duterte, has again reinstated the national police force in his ‘war on drugs’ after withdrawing the force on October 12. This is the second time the police have been reinstated to the anti-drug operation, ‘double barrel,’ after they were removed in January and re-involved in March. Since beginning office on June 30, 2016, Human Rights Watch believes the ‘war on drugs’ has killed over 12,000 Filipinos. Most of the dead were poor drug users living in the slums of Manila. These people were not major drug suppliers fueling the Philippines drug problem. According to Human Rights Watch, at least 2,555 deaths have been attributed to police in the mere year and a half of Duterte’s reign. Yet, this horrific bloodshed was predicted in Duterte’s election promises. “If I make it to the presidential palace I will do just what I did as mayor. You drug pushers, holdup men, and do-nothings, you better get out because I’ll kill you,” he said. This number of civilian deaths has not been seen in south-east Asia since Cambodia’s genocide in the 1970’s.

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) has 1,800 staff, which makes up just over one percent of the 160,000 national police members. The PDEA have not been responsible for the killings and therefore, in the times when the national police have been removed from the anti-drug operation, the number of deaths plummeted.  If Duterte was concerned about these extra-judicial killings he would permanently remove the police from the ‘war on drugs,’ yet he has reinstated them twice. The Philippines National Police have blamed unidentified vigilantes for at least 3,603 deaths, almost half of the total death toll. Horrifically, Amnesty International reports that at least 60 children have been killed in ‘operation double barrel.’  The murder of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos in August gained wide-spread media coverage and condemnation as CCTV footage proved that the teenager did nothing to provoke officers to shoot him. Despite this evidence, 12 police officers have been investigated but none have been held accountable for the murder. Shockingly, the Philippines remain a member of the United Nations and the Human Rights Council despite committing crimes against humanity as defined by the International Criminal Court, to which the Philippines is also a member.  These massacres are a widespread attack on the Philippines impoverished population and have received enough media attention that Duterte unquestionably realizes there is a problem. Yet, he chooses not to act and thus, senior officials and the national police are not held accountable and the killing continues.

Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, James Gomez, maintains that the president should be held accountable for his failure to combat the senseless killing in his country. “The ICC must open a preliminary examination into the situation and cast its net widely. Responsibility is not just limited to those pulling the trigger, but also those who order or encourage murders and other crimes against humanity. President Duterte and other high-level government officials have openly advocated for killings, which could amount to criminal responsibility under international law.” This is precisely what needs to occur to end the mass murder of the Philippines’ most vulnerable people. The ICC must hold the President and the national police force accountable as the unjust death in the Philippines will only end when an outside agency steps in. Furthermore, the United Nations must formally condemn the Philippines for breaching the UN code of conduct for law enforcement officials. This sends the message to Duterte that his violent response to the Philippines drug problem will not be tolerated and he will be internationally condemned. This is a peaceful conflict resolution method to encourage Duterte to change his stance on the ‘war on drugs’ and to follow recommendations from the UN on how to solve the drug problem without murder. Duterte is unlikely to want to be ejected from the United Nations and thus, is more likely to act upon the extra-judicial killings in the Philippines.

Olivia Reed

Olivia studies a Bachelor of Communication (Journalism) at Deakin University in Geelong, Australia.