President Rodrigo Duterte’s narcotics crackdown in the Philippines is a “systematic campaign of abuses,” Amnesty International has claimed this week, whilst urging the United Nations to launch an investigation into thousands of killings at the hands of Filipino authorities. The police are reportedly conducting routine night killings of people who have been placed on drug watch lists. The official government death toll from these killings is 5300, although watchdogs have suggested that the total is actually at least four times higher than that, with human rights groups suggesting that the true figure is closer to 20,000. The Chairman of the Philippines Commission on Human Rights believes that the toll could even be as high as 27,000. Government statistics on the drug raids indicate 164,265 arrests of “drug personalities” as part of 115,435 drug operations across the country over the last three years.
Amnesty International released a report earlier in the week, which detailed their investigation into the deaths of 17 people over the past year alone in Bulacan, an area of the Philippines near the capital of Manila, which has become known as the “Killing Field.” The names on these alleged drug lists are being provided to the police by local officials, who are under a lot of pressure to continue giving over a steady supply of suspects. People who are being added to the watch list are not being removed, even if they have already been through drug treatment or stopped using them. Witnesses have reported incidents of the police breaking down the doors of people’s homes, before shutting drug suspects inside and abducting others to be killed elsewhere. Other reports detail police tampering with crime scenes and fabricating reports, as well as planting evidence stolen from victims. Despite the many calls for investigation into police behaviors, only three officers have ever been found guilty of any killings- namely the 2017 killing of a 17-year-old high school student.
A spokesperson from the Philippine drug enforcement agency has shared that since President Duterte came into power in July 2016, he has been cracking down on drug users and dealers as a focal point of his administration, and continued on the trajectory of the brutal violence campaign he enacted when he was Mayor of Davao. During his presidential election campaign in 2015, Duterte stated publicly that he would crackdown on drug suspects, warning them to “stay on guard because that 1000 [people killed in Davao city] would become 10,000.” In September 2018, Duterte confessed in a public speech to extrajudicial killings, but this was brushed off by the government.
Many Filipino citizens are in support of an investigation, particularly as the international community and the press have lost interest in the issue. There were reports on this situation internationally over six months ago, but there has been radio silence since. 90% of Filipinos have reported wanting to keep drug suspects alive, whilst 70% fear becoming the victim of extrajudicial killings themselves.
The government continues to fail to properly investigate the situation or provide adequate treatment programs for alleged drug users, despite many families of the deceased taking their cases to the International Criminal Court. In late 2018, the Philippine Commission on Human Rights Chairman Chito Gason declared that there would be a formal investigation into the government in early 2019; however, there does not appear to be any progress on this. Even without the media coverage of the formal ICC persecution of officials, there has been a decline in the President’s popularity, and a growing domestic pushback to these drug raids. The international community should strongly consider an investigation sooner rather than later, before more lives are lost in vain or the escalation of this civil unrest.