"Rody Duterte, People’s Last Hope,” reads a popular slogan in the City of Davao, Philippines—a sign of endearment from the city he once governed. The city is home to the incumbent president of the Philippines who promised the country “change” while he was running as a candidate. Indeed, change did come. It came the day after his inauguration on June 30, 2016 when the first drug related massacre occurred. Change came; and no one knows if it can be reversed.
2016. It was unknown, at that moment, that it would be the first of over 7,000. What Duterte claimed would last only six months has become a self-righteous crusade at the expense of thousands of lives. The fear of another massacre became rooted in the everyday lives of Philippine citizens. What is even more devastating is that the primary victims of this system were those who were povertystricken in the rural areas of the Philippines.
▲ Protests against the extra-judicial killings, PHOTO PROVIDED BY REUTERS
Regarding Police Brutality
“Please stop. Please stop. I have a test tomorrow,” were the last words of Kian Santos. Kian was 17 years old. His autopsy reports verify that he was shot in the head and back. The defense of the policeman who shot Kian was that the boy drew a gun. This later turned out to be groundless after a video of Kian held in custody was released.
Kian’s death is a reflection of police brutality that has become ever apparent after the inauguration of President Duterte. In fact, earlier this year, a Korean businessman was killed inside the Philippine National Police (PNP) headquarters by police officers who were after a ransom from his family. Yet, Kian’s death has sparked outrage among the citizens of the Philippines who have had enough of seeing their fellow countrymen being prosecuted and killed unlawfully. They are demanding due process, the most rudimentary legal requirement that any nation governed under the principle of the law must have for justice to prevail in the country.
Police brutality and extrajudicial killings, as confirmed by reports published by the government, NGOs, and reporters, have become extremely widespread and ingrained in the structure of the PNP over the past year. In fact, an investigation published by Reuters in June revealed a finding that the “police were sending corpses to hospitals to destroy evidence at crime scenes and hide the fact that they were executing drug suspects.” Among the 301 victims brought to hospitals last year, only two lived while the rest arrived dead. Ultimately, ever since Duterte has officially declared the domestic war on drugs, the concept of due process has become virtually non-existent.
Human Rights in the Philippines
Essentially, grave and systematic abuse of human rights has been running rampant in the Philippines. However, top government officials, and even Duterte himself, have been denying any such allegations. What is even more bewildering is the debate in the House of Representatives last September that ended up reducing the budget of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to approximately 20 U.S. dollars, although the budget was restored the following week.
“[The budget decrease] is a signal to all opponents of the war on drugs and violent methods Duterte espouses,” comments Atty. Jesus Falcis, a human rights lawyer based in the Philippines, “that anyone who tries to block him by raising the issue of human rights can be defeated if he wants.” He elaborates that Duterte was “controlling the legislative to exercise whatever power in his means to weaken his perceived opponents.”
However, Duterte denied exerting any influence over the initial decision of the lawmakers during his meeting with the United States (U.S.) Ambassador to the Philippines. Furthermore, Duterte claimed that the PNP abides by the standards of the law and that proper police procedures were followed after the Ambassador urged Duterte to look into the alleged extrajudicial killings by the police “to ensure continued people’s confidence in the government.”
The Future of the Drug War
According to Atty. Falcis, “The war on drugs needs to be stopped as soon as possible; it has never worked in any country to reduce drug use and the illegal drug trade.” This is, in fact, true, as seen in the case of Columbia or even the U.S. However, there are other methods to handle this issue instead of using sheer violence. “The alternatives such as legalization, decriminalization, and harm reduction approaches are ones that are proven to work. Portugal is a clear example,” adds Atty. Falcis. To be more specific, Portugal took on an experiment to decriminalize drugs and to treat addiction to drugs more as a “medical challenge than as a criminal justice issue.” More than a decade later, the number of drug users has decreased approximately 75 percent.
Ultimately, solving the drug problem is not an easy task, especially when it is known as the plague of a nation. However, no matter the costs, the key is to adhere to the law and prioritize the welfare of the citizens with a long-term perspective in mind. After the havoc that the war on drugs has wreaked in the Philippines, Duterte now has a solemn obligation to restore and reinforce a sense of justice and the rule of law during the remaining years of his presidency.
▲ A woman grieving the death of her husband who was killed for allegedly being a drug pusher, as written in the cardboard, PHOTO PROVIDED BY CNN