The president-elect of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, has publicly encouraged the extrajudicial killing of suspected drug dealers this week. In several addresses to his supporters, Duterte has taken the opportunity to offer both medals and bounties to members of the public for the summary executions of criminals, whilst reiterating his zero-tolerance policy on drug crime.
In an address to his supporters in the southern city of Davao, of which he has been mayor for the past 22 years, Duterte urged members of the public with any knowledge of suspected drug criminals to “please feel free to call us, the police, or do it yourself if you have the gun, you have my support […] shoot him and I’ll give you a medal.” Similarly, the Philippine Daily Inquirer has reported that the president-elect has begun offering rewards of P5.5 million (USD $120,000) for every drug lord slain in Cebu, the Philippines’ main domestic shipping port.
Duterte’s recent incitement of violence has come as a cause for concern, despite many passing it off as campaign rhetoric. The soon-to-be former mayor of Davao is believed to have links to already existing vigilante groups such as the Davao Death Squad (DDS). Human Rights Watch (HRW) have attributed 1424 summary executions to the DDS and other copycat groups in the local area since 1998, and reported that membership numbers had climbed beyond 500 personnel by 2009. HRW added that victims were selected because they were suspected of being criminals. Amnesty International added in a separate report that the victims of these summary executions included minors.
In 2009 the U.N. General Assembly reported that “the mayor of Davao City has done nothing to prevent these killings, and his public comments suggest he is in fact supportive.” This week U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon released a statement condemning Duterte’s “apparent endorsement of extrajudicial killings, which is illegal and a breach of fundamental rights and freedoms.”
Panfilo Lacson, former chief of the Philippine National Police has expressed concern that the rise of vigilante groups might escalate the current crime situation into a more serious peace and order problem. Instilling citizens with the pseudo-legal power to perform extrajudicial executions could greatly diminish the course of justice within the Philippines with the proposed exclusion of the legal system in dealing with certain crimes. The implementation of a process of retributive justice, in which murder is tolerated with seemingly minimal accountability, could have as Lacson fears, social and political repercussions that extend far beyond the handling of drug-related crimes.
Duterte also seeks to reinstate the death penalty, which was previously abolished in the Philippines in 2006. Albeit regressive, legally sanctioned executions performed by the state are preferable to the extrajudicial killings by civilians that are being encouraged. It is yet to be determined whether or not the president-elect’s rhetoric is being employed as a scare tactic, or is indeed genuine. It is certain, however, that as Duterte ascends to power, the eyes of the international community will be upon him. As political analyst Marites Vitug writes, Duterte may be an effective “scarer in chief” for a short period of time, but with the eyes of human rights organisations upon him it will be “hard for him to commit shortcuts”.
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