I can understand the hatred Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has against illegal drugs. I can’t agree more with him that these bring nothing but social ills — crimes that result in the loss of properties, dignity, and human lives. I am in agreement with him that there is an urgent need to stop its proliferation if we’re serious about building a community free from the evils that emanate from illegal drug use and abuse.
However, my concurrence with Duterte ends there.
The war he waged on illegal drugs since taking the Philippine presidency lacks the visions of an approach that adheres to the standards acceptable to any civilized community. His war hides behind a tall promise of eliminating illegal drugs from the streets of the country’s over 7,000 islands — so far accomplishing nothing but the summary execution of more than 3,500 small-time suspected drug dealers.
Project Double Barrel, implemented by the Philippine National Police under Duterte, has conducted 23,367 operations as of Oct. 2, 2016. Filipino journalist Cecille Suerte-Felipe reported that 1,360 people have died in police operations, which also resulted in the arrest of 22,217 suspected drug “personalities.” Reports from the National Police did not say how many of the killed and arrested “drug personalities” were dealers and how many were users.
Besides this number, over 2,000 people were killed by vigilantes — encouraged by Duterte, who, according to a June 4, 2016 Associated Press report, urged “citizens with guns to shoot and kill drug dealers who resist arrest and fight back in their neighborhoods.”
Speaking on June 4, 2016 before a huge crowd following his triumphant run for the Philippine presidency, Duterte said, “Please feel free to call us, the police, or do it yourself if you have the gun — you have my support.”
Also, the Philippine police, under Duterte, launched Project Tokhang (knock and plead), under which government operatives visit the houses of suspected drug users and dealers whose names appear on a list provided by village or barangay officials. Since its launch, more than 1.5 million houses of suspected illegal drug dealers and users have been visited, resulting in the surrender of 731,839 people — 52,791 traffickers and 679,048 users.
The numbers alone are commendable. The important questions, however, are:
(1) How accurate is the list? Anyone who holds a grudge against a neighbor can easily fabricate stories.
(2) What happens after they surrender? Are there concrete government rehabilitation programs? Because dancing Zumba definitely won’t shake the habit off, nor would it eliminate the financial need of some who resort to illegal activities to be able to give their families three squares a day.
(3) What happens to those who refuse to surrender because they’re either (a) afraid or (b) not in any absolute way involved in illegal drugs — dealing or using?
It goes without saying that those who refuse to participate in the process eventually surface on the street as victims of the “cardboard justice”—wrapped in plastic alongside a cardboard sign that says “Pusher wag tularan (drug dealer, don’t emulate).”
All these are happening under Duterte’s watchful eyes. He has not condemned any of the 3,500 summary executions; he has not done anything to stop the killing. He has not even talked about Article III of the Philippines’ Bill of Rights, which affords everyone — including “drug personalities” — due process or the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.
To say that the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines have Duterte’s blessings is not an assumption. He has openly talked about it, even joking at one point that he will sign an order pardoning himself for whatever charges that may be filed against him when he steps down in 2022. It was a joke but who’s laughing? Not the 3,500 victims of his vigilante justice nor their families and friends. And maybe someday, neither will the 100 million Filipinos who are bound to soon realize that Duterte lacks the ability to take his tough stance on drugs to the more important issues of social justice and poverty alleviation.