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Rodrigo Duterte, president of Philippines, in June 2016 launched a highly controversial “war on drugs.” This war has led to the unlawful killings of over 7,000 people involved in criminal activity. Upon inauguration, Duterte called for citizens to kill drug-addicts, as well as any individuals involved in the drug trade. Since then, the Philippine police have been granted the power to exact extrajudicial killings. These killings make up over 30% of the resultant deaths from the hostilities.
Indeed, the Philippine police wield a great amount of power unchecked. Earlier this year, an Amnesty International report described a common practice of the Philippine police: fabricating the flimsiest evidence as an “economy of murder,” where the impoverished are made to suffer greatly. The report claims that for individual police officers, a financial incentive exists per “encounter” (a euphemism for extrajudicial killings). According to Reuters, the Philippines’ population is largely in favour of this heavy-handed approach toward the drug underworld. However, as many activists argue, the brunt of this aggressive is falling upon low-level participants (mainly drug-users and suspects, as opposed to dealers).
The complete dismissal of human rights and proper judicial process in favour of this “shoot to kill” policy has been condemned by former Colombian president Cesar Gaviria, who dubbed the “war on drugs” as an un-winnable “war on people.” Gaviria went on to say that the issue should be approached socially, not militarily. Indeed, Colombia’s own drug offensive was unsuccessful in its aims, but still managed to produce 2,500 deaths from police encounters. Colombia’s failure is a clear indication that Duterte’s ruthlessness shall not meet its intended ends.
Recently, President Duterte has claimed that reports of barbarism within the Philippine police force is simply an attempt to tarnish his administration. The recent killing of Arnais (19) and de Guzman (14) in Caloocan, which produced a huge backlash from the public, have been dubbed “sabotage” by the President. Duterte claimed that his police act within the “bounds of the law.” Still, the fact remains that Duterte demonstrates an open disregard for human life, actively encouraging the slaughter of drug-users.
Shockingly, on September 12th, 2017, the Philippines’ House of Representatives voted to reduce the budget granted to the Commission for Human Rights in the upcoming year. This reduction sees a 679 million figure (in pesos) dwindle to an incredibly meagre 1,000 pesos (approximately 40 GBP). The House’s criticism of the CHR focused on its tendency to condemn violations instead of simply investigating them; the House argued that the CHR should investigate all abusers of human rights.
In crippling the ability of CHR to act independently, President Duterte has been granted even more freedom to act as he wishes. In the last year, Duterte has been condemned for the illegality of his ‘war on drugs’ and its gross violation of human rights by the UN Special Rapporteur, Agnes Callamard. Interestingly, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reports low drug-usage in the Philippines compared to the rest of the globe (most drug-users in the Philippines use only marijuana).
However, as Edcel Lagman (a Philippine human rights lawyer) notes, the position of the CHR is to condemn human rights abuse—this condemnation (or decision not to condemn) is inherent to the act of investigating. Furthermore, Lagman argues that human rights violations are offences committed by the state; as such, they do not fall under the jurisdiction of the CHR. Therefore, the decision to effectively incapacitate the commission is greatly unjust and ultimately, dangerous. This further removal of the protection of human rights will likely prolong the mass abuses which plague the Philippines.