War against Drugs

At the forefront of the program for “change”?

By Lutgardo Paras



National Police Chief Ronald de la Rosa, middle, head of the war against drugs, during the interment of the remains of Senior Inspector Mark Gil Garcia, who died in a drug raid in Antipolo City, August 19, 2016 (Credit Leonito Navales/Philippine National Police, via European Pressphoto Agency).

Change is coming”, was President Rodrigo Duterte’s slogan while still campaigning. He admitted he did not have a platform, unlike other candidates.  What change he was aiming for was not clear.  It was not even clear whether the proposed change to the federal system was the promised change.

Duterte was noisiest when talking about the promise to wipe away criminality especially the trade and use of illegal drugs.  This is perhaps the change.  He set the time limit at three to six (3–6) months.  He was certain, it would be bloody. His campaign talks were bloody;hange is coming”, was President Rodrigo Duterte’s slogan while still campaigning. He admitted he did not have a platform, unlike other candidates.  What change he was aiming for was not clear.  It was not even clear whether the proposed change to the federal system was the promised change.

The more than 1,000 killled in Davao City will reach 100,000 throughout the country in three to six months. There will be no need for prisons. The fishes in Manila Bay will grow fat.”

This campaign pledge by Duterte is now being implemented.  Even before this new administration got into its 100th day, it had boasted about its progress in the war against drugs and criminality.

His speech, “The Fight Will Be Relentless, It Will Be Sustained,” during his inaugural on June 30, was a formal declaration of war against drugs. But he said the following in that speech:

“… the problems that bedevil our country today which need to be addressed with urgency, are corruption, both in the high and low echelons of government, criminality in the streets, and the rampant sale of illegal drugs in all strata of Philippine society and the breakdown of law and order. True, but not absolutely so. For I see these ills as mere symptoms of a virulent social disease that creeps and cuts into the moral fiber of Philippine society.”

These ills, according to Duterte are:

“Erosion of faith and trust in government—that is the real problem that confronts us. Resulting therefrom, I see the erosion of the people’s trust in our country’s leaders; the erosion of faith in our judicial system; the erosion of confidence in the capacity of our public servants to make the people’s lives better, safer and healthier.”

Towards the end, Duterte went back to the war against drugs and crimes.  He asked Congress for more powers and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), for understanding.  This was how he said it:

In this fight, I ask Congress and the Commission on Human Rights and all others who are similarly situated to allow us a level of governance that is consistent to our mandate. The fight will be relentless and it will be sustained.”

After this request, he said something that seemed to confirm that he knows the law. “As a lawyer and a former prosecutor, I know the limits of my power and authority as president.  My adherence to due process and rule of law is uncompromising.”

But he followed this with a line that is contradictory rather than consistent with the  principle of separation of powers and system of checks and balances: “You mind your work and I will mind mine.”  He is sending the message that no one can intervene in what he does.  This was a warning he mentioned earlier that he wants it to take effect now.

Duterte’s statements that make a travesty of the legal system followed. In one instance, he told his fellow law graduates from San Beda College, “Ang due process ay sa korte. Hindi ninyo mahahanap ‘yan sa akin.” (“Due process is in the courts. You will not find it in me.”) 

War against drugs and criminality and the return of the death penalty on top of the continuing neo liberalization of the economy

At last, the new administration had drawn its direction before its inauguration.  His economic agenda was drawn as he was forming his Cabinet.  It is basically a continuation of the macroeconomic policies of recent Aquino administration.

This includes widening the scope of the Pantawid-Pamilyang Pilipino Program (PPPP); increasing the budget for infrastructure through the public-private partnership; a more favorable climate for foreign investors through charter change; tax reform; and so forth.

Duterte’s immediate priority, however, is the war against drugs and criminality.


Some of the illegal drug users and pushers who surrendered have sworn to change in front of policemen and officials of the LGU in a city in Metro Manila (www ibtimes com)

He confirmed during his first State of the Nation Address (SONA), that his focus will be on the “ceaseless and sustained fight” against drugs.  This was at the start and towards the end of his speech.

Indeed, illegal drug trade and use and related crimes have become a big problem in the Philippines.  Drugs are usually a factor in heinous crimes like rape and ruthless killing.  These are symptoms of poverty, lack of productive livelihood and employment and decadent culture among the people, even among the elite in society.

The Philippines has the biggest “shabu” consumption in the entire East Asia in 2012, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).  Almost 20% of the barangays in the whole country have drug cases, according to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in February 2015.  The same report says 92% of the barangays in the National Capital Region (NCR) have drug cases.  PDEA estimates say that more than three million people in the Philippines use drugs.

Illegal drug trade is an international problem and therefore, to combat this calls for coordination with the United Nations and with other countries.  But then, Duterte treats the war against drugs as an internal matter.


Violation of human rights, especially of the right to life and to reform life, in the conduct of the war against drugs

The war on drugs appears to be fruitful.  Around 600,000 users have surrendered and, according to the Philippine National Police (PNP), its personnel have arrested more than 10,000.  Most of them need rehabilitation but the country lacks rehabilitation facilities.

Nevertheless, it is bothersome that more than 1,7000 suspected drug pushers, couriers and users were killed from July 1 until August 20, 2016.  More than 700 got killed in PNP operations and more than 1,000 were supposedly killed by vigilantes.

More than 30 are killed every day.  Most, if not all, of those that the PNP and the vigilantes have killed are poor.  They have not been given the chance to defend themselves before the law and reform their lives.

The PNP aims to significantly or much more, totally wipe out the illegal drug problem within six months.  It aims to make 1.8 million or 50% of those allegedly involved in illegal drugs surrender, get arrested or neutralized.  PNP Director “Bato” de la Rosa repeatedly said, the war on drugs of the PNP will be the criterion in evaluating every PNP official’s and personnel’s performance of duty.

Some officials and personnel of the PNP, though, are among the suspects in the illegal drug trade.  Duterte himself named five generals of the PNP (two retired and three still active) who, allegedly, protect drug syndicates.  Aside from them, more than 100 present and former officials in the local levels of government and seven judges are, reportedly, involved in drugs.  Duterte will be naming those in his list, he has announced.

Along with the war against drugs and criminality is the proposal to restore the death penalty.  Duterte even proposed the savage way of public hanging.  Combined with this is the proposal to further lower the age of criminal liability from 17 years old to 12 or even 9 years old.

But even before the debates in Congress on death penalty, this has been imposed on many suspected criminals, particularly those allegedly involved in illegal drugs, without trial.

It is spine-chilling that Duterte went to the extent of directly saying, “I do not care about human rights. Believe me.” This was his response when the media asked him about the fact that most of the drug users that were killed came from impoverished sectors.  And Duterte reasoned out irresponsibly, “The poor who use drugs, are, surely, pushers as well,” It’s like he has meted out death penalty on the poor drug users because a drug user “is, surely, a drug pusher as well.”

This gives the police licence to kill, especially impoverished suspects.  Duterte’s first call strongly encourages the people to conduct “citizen arrest” of pushers and kill them if they resist.


IDEFEND.   Different people’s groups founded the In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (IDefend), August 12, 2016, to ask the Duterte government not to make the war on drugs that he is pursuing a war against human rights.  IDefend asked the new government to solve poverty, the root of the widespread drug problem.  Kilusan took part in the building of IDefend. (photo: philrights)

Duterte seems power-drunk as he pushes his war against drugs.  Like their reaction to the killings by the Davao Death Squad, Duterte and Bato are oblivious of the grief and protests of the bereaved families and relatives of victims of the war on drug.  Those who question, criticize or comment, like the Commission on Human Rights, Church-people, organizations and personalities that uphold and defend human rights, including the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and the Human Rights Watch are called enemies and protectors of drug syndicates.

Within merely more than a month, Duterte got involved in several controversies with his war on drugs.  His reaction to Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno was most infamous)  He supposedly joked again about leaving the United Nations in reaction to the comment of the UN special rapporteur.  He is irreverent in accusing and defaming certain persons and institutions, including the United Nations, which to him is obstructing his crusade against drugs.

No matter the rewording or reformulation his spokespersons do to his statements, or Duterte’s saying sorry, he has already done damage. He has put at stake the stature and image of Philippines before the whole world.

Duterte had bared his dictatorial character after CJ Serreno wrote to him.  Serreno’s reminder that the Supreme Court has the sole power over the judges and her directive to the seven judges that Duterte implicated in drugs to not surrender or not go with the police without a warrant of arrest.  Duterte went to the point of threatening to declare martial law.  Though he apologized to the Chief Justice later, Duterte bared his disregard of the Supreme Court’s independence and the authority of the Chief Justice.

The bloody outcome, especially the spate of extra-judicial killings, is alarming and incites anger.  Duterte himself said that human rights consideration and the rule of law is being set aside.   His habitual “kill” word for his so-called “non-humans”, encourages trigger-happy police officers to swiftly finish their operations by killing suspects or to pose as vigilantes that have their own kill-lists.  The police officers that are involved in illegal drugs take advantage of this as well in order to permanently silence both their assets and “competitors”.

Duterte’s assurance to the police that he will defend them if ever Congress, the CHR or courts put them under investigation or if they are sued, bolsters further human rights violations.

The explanation and alibis of the police in operations that resulted in the death of drug suspects is already irritating.  Police reports saying they killed the suspect because, “He attempted to fight” or “He tried to grab our gun,” are incredible.  The storyline, “Found with the suspect was a .38 caliber” or “a.45 caliber” or “a firearm of unknown caliber” are overused.  And, reports don’t forget to mention: “A sachet, of suspected ‘shabu,’ was found in the suspects’ possession.”

While impoverished suspects of drugs get killed, the rich, like Peter Lim, who Duterte himself tagged as a drug lord, are alive and free.  Duterte gave Lim time to clear his name.  The same is true with Mayor Rolando Espinosa of Albuea, Leyte, who is back on his seat as mayor despite the 11 kilos of shabu and tools and paraphernalia for making explosives that the police found in his house.

Duterte patterned his war against drugs after what he implemented in Davao City in a period much longer than six months.  The vigilante group called Davao Death Squad (DDS) played a prominent role in the anti-drug campaign in Davao but Duterte and the PNP have denied their connection to this infamous group until now.  But during the election campaign Duterte would often brag about the DDS’s record in killing about 1,700 persons.

Despite this, they failed to eradicate the drug problem in Davao City, the PNP Chief Bato de la Rosa himself said.  K


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