Filipino Government executes hundreds of petty criminals in it’s “War on Drugs”
Today marks the end of Filipino President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s first month in office. Not coincidentally, this month was one of the bloodiest in recent memory for the Filipino people. Campaigning almost entirely on an anti-drug platform, Duterte gives a whole new meaning to the term, “War on Drugs”.
Beginning his presidential campaign after a lengthy 22 year mayoral term of Davao City, Duterte was a seasoned veteran of the Filipino Drug War. As mayor, Duterte placed a high-priority on the reduction of narcotic trafficking and use. However, Duterte emphasizes the importance of treating drug addicts. Using city-government funds, Duterte built a ₱12-million drug rehabilitation and treatment center which provides 24-hour services. In 2003, Duterte even offered a ₱2,000 monthly allowance, the equivalent of roughly 40 USD, to drug addicts who personally approached him and committed to cease taking drugs. However, Duterte’s dedication to addiction treatment was marred by something much more nefarious.
Duterte’s second term as Davao City Mayor saw the rise of the self-proclaimed “Suluguon sa Katawhan” (“Servants of the People”), but this vigilante group was quickly dubbed the Davao Death Squad (DDS). Often attacking in small groups of 2 or 3 and riding motorbikes, members of the DDS attacked suspected drug-pushers and murdered them publicly and during the day. Human Rights Watch attributes at least 1,020 disappearances and murders to this vigilante hit squad (1998 – 2008). Instead of condemning the group, Duterte applauded the vigilantes, publicly stating in a 2005 crime summit that, “Summary execution of criminals remains the most effective way to crush kidnapping and illegal drugs.” In 2009, Duterte explicitly called for said executions, saying, “If you are doing an illegal activity in my city, if you are a criminal or part of a syndicate that preys on the innocent people of the city, for as long as I am the mayor, you are a legitimate target of assassination.” Ironically, the DDS established itself as the most lethal syndicate existing in Davao, yet they operate with almost no repercussions as city officials and police tolerate the operations of the DDS. Painting a picture of direct government support, Human Rights Watch discovered that the upper echelon of the DDS were even current or former police officers.
Presently, Duterte’s presidency has seen at least 300 drug fatalities occurring nationwide in the last month alone; a majority of these killings being carried out by members of the Philippine National Police without due process. Alarmingly, an ever-increasing number of these “drug-pusher” deaths are caused not by police, but by vigilante death squads. According to ABS-CBN Investigative and Research Group, these vigilantes boast a causality count of at least 60 people in the last two months. Will these extra-judicial executions of petty criminals become the norm and will the Davao Death Squad establish itself as the president’s personal hit-squad? If Duterte’s history as Davao City Mayor is any sort of basis, it is very likely we will see the death toll of the Philippines Drug War escalate.