On July the 23rd, Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte spoke at the annual State of Nation Address (SONA), a publicly broadcasted event in which the president addresses both the Senate and House of Representatives in a joint session. During his address, Duterte vowed to continue his crackdown on illegal drugs and drug users. Duterte’s War on Drug Crime has resulted in the execution of at least 20, 000 of Philippines’ citizens to date. During the session, thousands of anti-war protestors gathered outside in the streets of Manila and other cities. Coming together from all walks of life, the protests displayed unity among Philippines’ citizens as they condemned the violence of the drug war.
Their demonstrations reflect the growing concerns of citizens regarding the progress on the drug war, as Duterte reaffirms his stance to be ‘relentless and chilling’ in his crusade against illegal drugs. Durterte’s actions have been condemned by various organisations and leaders, both in-country and internationally. Last year, Philippines’ Head of the Catholic Church, Cardinal Luis Tagle issued a strong statement through a pastoral letter, where he said ‘we cannot govern a nation by killing’. In March, Prominent Phillipines’ Senator Antonio Trillanes spoke at the UN’s meeting in Vienna on Narcotic Drugs, calling Duterte’s war a sham illustrating the ‘creeping dictatorship in the Philippines’.
Duterte’s recent declaration evidences this allegation. As of 2017, illegal drug usage and trade in the Phillipines was estimated by the UN to be at approximately 1.7 million persons, although exact numbers are widely debated. Rather than increasing rehabilitation efforts and providing aid and relief to citizens requiring services, Duterte instead presents a view of illegal drug users as the worst of criminals, undeserving of fundamental rights and community services. His executions of drug users has targeted the poorest and most vulnerable of communities within the Philippines, including street children who were described as ‘collateral damage’. Yet, many continue to support Duterte’s regime, which has also issued reforms such as the recent tax cuts for low income citizens, and reported to have reduced crime rates. However, his policies are carried out with disregard for law and human lives, as evidenced through thousands of extrajudicial killings in the drug war, sparking concerns of Philippines’ potential transformation into a police state.
Vigilante assassinations, police brutality and allegations of falsified criminal records are characterising Duterte’s regime. His systemic executions and single-minded approach to the war on drugs however, precedes his presidential term. As mayor of Davao city, Duterte rose in popularity through his similar strategies in combating prostitution, discrimination and illegal drug plaguing the town. As president, he has enforced this strategy on a larger scale.
Senator Trillaines has urged for International Criminal Court to intervene, which began a preliminary investigations early this year into Duterte’s crimes. However, the President’s move in pulling the Philippines out of the ICC has complicated the matter. Nonetheless, international pressure is necessary to curb the outbreak of authoritarian violence. Promoting hate and fear to erase crime is an approach that has yet to serve well in the history of humanity. The issue of illegal drug trade and use is unlikely to be solved through means as executed so far in Duterte’s government, thus it is necessary for continued discussions to curb violence and instead work towards peaceful solutions to address illegal drug trade and usage.
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