Since taking office in June of 2016, President Duterte, has been a strong proponent of increasing sanctions against drug users and sellers, and by “sanctions”, I mean death. While many countries such as Denmark, treat drug issues primarily as a medical concern rather than a criminal one, the Filipino president appears to have reversed this European precedent.
The 45 years long war on drugs in the United States, is also a very controversial topic that mirrors many of the same criticisms. Whereas the United States boasts the largest prison population on the planet, primarily caused by harsh drug laws, the Philippines is going a step further by using death as a means of punishment instead of incarceration or rehabilitation programs. On the surface, it may seem to be a swift strategy of “no tolerance” against the destructive nature of drug manufacturing. However, just like in any “war”, innocent casualties will also become a factor. The government has said over 3,800 were killed in legitimate anti-illegal drug operations. Human rights groups peg the number of deaths at over 13,000, but the administration has dismissed this figure as overblown.
Duterte recently scaled back his drug war, tapping the smaller Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency as the lead government body to enforce the campaign and relegating the police force to a supporting role. This resulted in the Philippine National Police to terminate its controversial house-to-house anti-drug campaign “Oplan Tokhang” (knock and plead).
These “door step” trials can sometimes result in “trigger happy” officers firing on innocent people, house pets, or minor children, such as in the case of 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos, who was dragged past a basketball court into a dead-end screaming, “Please can I go home. I have school tomorrow”. He was given a gun and told to run, whereas he was essentially killed by a firing squad. A perfectly staged killing set up by public servants against their own citizens.
Just as in all forms of law enforcement, there must be a balance between deterrence through punishment and a gentle hand of compassion in order to change the law, repeal the law, or rehabilitate the offender. A society ran on fear will never flourish just as in the days of Feudal Japan or the Monarchy of Britain that ruled over the American Colonists.
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said world leaders should raise concern about Duterte’s war on drugs, which has seen thousands dead, mostly from the urban poor.
“Surely someone from among the 20 world leaders at these summits can confront Duterte about his horrific and unprecedented ‘drug war’ killings,” Brad Adams, HRW Asia Director, said in a statement.
The President’s son, Paolo Duterte, 42, appeared last month before a senate inquiry to deny accusations made by an opposition lawmaker that he was a member of a Chinese triad gang who helped smuggle in a huge shipment of crystal methamphetamine from China.
President Duterte pledged to protect police officers should they decide to murder his son if the allegations are indeed found to be true, in a speech made to the public. President Duterte claims that the law is not exempt for anyone under his Drug War parameters, including himself or family members.
Protesters soon rallied afterwards holding signs saying, “Stop the killings!”, “No rule by Martial Law”. Many of the protesters grew up in the era of the Marcos family who ruled over the Philippines for years using Martial Law tactics that involved extra-judicial killings and suppression of free-speech alongside the ban of private gun ownership.
Duterte responded to the protesters by saying, “I would be happy to slaughter the 3 million drug addicts in this country”, whereas he went on to describe any children killed in the drug war as “collateral damage”. Leaders in the Catholic church, the country’s dominant religion, have also spoken out against these harsh tactics used in this drug war.
Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, denounced the drug killings at another mass on Thursday, saying Catholics must do more than lighting candles for the dead and helping orphans. “Stand up. To keep quiet in the face of evil is a sin,” he said.
President Duterte is still in the early stages of his presidency. It isn’t too late for him to turn things around and have a change of heart. Like many great leaders, good intentions often pave the way to hell. While few doubt that the president doesn’t means well in his effort to solve the drug use problem in the Philippines, few agree that instituting a civil war against your own people in order to solve that problem can be a viable remedy.
We pray that world leaders will discuss alternative methods of curbing drug use in the Philippines with Duterte during upcoming conferences. Perhaps, such conversations will also influence American leaders who have also refused to adopt a more European approach towards solving drug use problems with medical solutions rather than criminal solutions. Currently the United States is spending over $51 billion dollars a year on drug enforcement measurements. A figure that many argue could be funneled into more productive rehabilitation programs. We can only pray that Duterte and other leaders who use similar tactics will be paying attention to the words of protestors and human rights organizations in the coming months leading up to a new election cycle.