Duterte's War On Drugs


Photo source: Gulf news
By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Gloeb Upfront

Duterte has some serious answers to give on his coveted war on drugs. It was in June 2020 when UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet compiled a twenty-six-page report on the drug related killings in Philippines, where around nine hundred submissions from human rights defenders, journalists, trade unionists were recorded.

Human rights defenders in Philippines believe that the total number of extrajudicial killings are around twenty-seven thousand. This death toll bears comparison to the ‘disappeared’ under the Argentinian junta of the 1970s. The police, for their part, reported more than 23,000 “homicide cases under investigation” during the two years from July 2016.

Judy Pasimio, a spokesperson for the advocacy group In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDefend), believes that the official death toll was likely to be an underestimate, because so many relatives were afraid to speak out.

The UN report had found that most victims were young, poor urban males, and that police didn’t make search warrants to conduct house raids, and forced suspects to make self-incriminating statements or risk facing lethal force.

The Duterte administration, in its defense, had said that no killings were illegal, and that his moves are to prevent Philippines becoming a narco-state. He branded the probe as a travesty.

From July 1, 2016, when Duterte first came into power, a total of 6.62 tons and 5,610.32 litres of dangerous drugs worth Php 28.03 billion ($547 million) have been destroyed. Methamphetamine hydrochloride (also known as 'shabu') and marijuana are two of the most used and valuable illegal drugs in Philippines.

His war on drugs, and its subsequent condemnation, however, didn’t start when he was president. As a mayor of Davao City for twenty years, he was criticised by Human Rights Watch for extrajudicial killings of hundreds of street children, petty criminals and drug users carried out by Davao Death Squad.

Duterte had risen to power promising a merciless crackdown that would rid the country of drugs. On the campaign trail he once said that there would be so many bodies dumped in Manila Bay that fish would grow fat from feeding on them.

This drug war in Philippines seems to be a cat and mouse game. But what’s most surprising is the role of ‘ninja cops’, who are law enforcement agents allegedly involved in the drug trade for personal gain. When he came into power, he had dismissed several of the senior officers, who he had named as narco generals, reflecting a cloud of distrust over the role of Philippine National Police and other drug enforcement agencies.

In several senate investigations, police even admitted that the practice of keeping portions of seized drugs to plant evidence against suspects is still "rampant" among law enforcement agencies. There also have been cases of alleged ‘reselling’ of drugs by the police. Philippine anti-narcotic officials have even admitted that Duterte uses flawed and exaggerated data to support his claim that the Philippines is becoming a narco state. These facts are disturbing, and Duterte needs to come clean on this matter.

In an address to United Nations general assembly in September 2021, Duterte had instructed the Philippine National Police and Department of Justice ‘to review the conduct of the campaign’, in which thousands of suspected drug dealers have been killed since the beginning of his presidential term in 2016. He was more diplomatic in his U.N. speech, but was also dismissive of outside involvement in Philippines. However, rights groups have alleged that Duterte is paying ‘lip service’ to the investigation in order to escape international prosecution. In the past, he had even declared that he will be never tried by an international criminal court for mass killings on the war on drugs.

His statement came after International Criminal Court’s authorisation of a formal investigation into his drug war in the same month. It gave a green light for a full probe into the “war on drugs” campaign, describing it as a “widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population.”

In the past, when he received similar statements from International Criminal Court, such as in February 2018, Duterte had ordered his police not to cooperate, and had unilaterally cancelled Philippines’ ICC membership. The UN human rights council had even passed a resolution, back then, responding to a call by eleven UN experts, who were concerned about the ‘staggering’ number of deaths.

In his almost six years in office, the Philippine leader has repeatedly lashed out at the UN, calling it “inutile” and threatening to “burn” the organisation down. He has also hurled personal insults at UN officials, calling former human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein an “idiot” and referring to former human rights investigator Agnes Callamard as a “fool” and a “whore”.

Citing the Philippines’ withdrawal from the Rome Statute, Duterte said that the ICC no longer has no jurisdiction over him and that the probe is ‘illegal’. Philippine legal analysts say that decision not to cooperate would only expedite the resolution of the case.

Former University of the Philippines College of Law Dean Pacifico Agabin believes that Duterte’s legal strategy could even backfire, as it will only shorten the time for the ICC to review the case and proceed to the formal trial, during which the court could even issue an arrest warrant. Tony La Vina, the dean of the Ateneo School of Government in Manila, also added that Duterte and his team “will have a better chance appearing, rather than not appearing” at the Hague.


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