Philippine “Death Squads” and Duterte’s War on Drugs


“Forget the laws on human rights. If I make it to the presidential palace, I will do just what I did as mayor. You drug pushers, hold-up men and do-nothings, you better go out. Because I’d kill you,”
– President Rodrigo Duterte

Rodrigo Duterte was elected President of the Philippines in June of 2016, running on a domestic policy that promised to fix many of the countries economic and social problems by eradicating drug abuse. To do so he promised to eliminate drug addicts and drug dealers in the Philippines by killing all of them, even urging the public to “go ahead and kill” drug addicts. Many of Duterte’s actions even before he assumed office has been widely criticized by a number human rights organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Before he became President, Duterte served 10 years as the mayor of Davao city from 1988-1998, during which time he was being investigated by the State Department for his involvement in 26 cases regarding extrajudicial killings in 2005 and 60 Davao Death Squad (DDS) related murders in 2004. DDS is a vigilante group active in Davao city which has been allegedly responsible for an estimated 1,020-1,040 deaths and disappearances in Davao between 1998 and 2008. The DDS has also been allegedly responsible for hundreds of summary executions of individuals suspected of dealing drugs and committing petty crimes. In 2005 and again in 2009 the US State Department received reports from the Human Rights Commission’s investigation of Duterte’s involvement with the DDS, though the investigation eventually ended due to lack of public outrage in the Philippines and the local government’s refusal to cooperate under Duterte.

Many of President Duterte’s statements about things like rape and murder as well as comments about world leaders have been known to spark worldwide outrage. Duterte had this to say about the Pope’s visit to the Philippines in 2015,

We were affected by the traffic. It took us five hours. I asked why, they said it was closed. I asked who is coming. They answered, the Pope. I wanted to call him: ‘Pope, son of a whore, go home. Do not visit us again’.”

At a campaign rally in 1989, Duterte made a joke about a prison riot in Davao that resulted in a brutal gang rape and the murder of an Australian missionary stating,

I saw her face and I thought, ‘What a pity… they raped her, they all lined up. I was mad she was raped but she was so beautiful. I thought, the mayor should have been first.”

He later stated that this was “just how men talk” and his office issued an apology, and afterwards Duterte personally said that he was unaware of this apology.

According to a report issued by the United Nations in 2012, the Philippines has the highest rate of methamphetamine abuse of any East Asian country, which may explain why Duterte’s war on drugs has had so much support from the public. In 2016, a survey conducted by Pulse Asia Research showed that Duterte’s approval rating is approximately 86%, though some Filipino citizens were concerned about the growing number of deaths as a result of the war on drugs, many of them agreed with Duterte on things like his economic policy which  focuses on economic inequalities and promotes progressive economies. Public opinion, as well as the slow and corrupt Philippine judicial system, has helped Duterte’s war on drugs to be successful, instead of waiting for trials, many suspected criminals are executed on the spot, especially those accused of drug-related crimes. As a result of this, the public views the judicial system as ineffective and inferior to their President who has acted on his promises quickly and efficiently. This allows President Duterte to continue his war on drugs with relatively little internal obstacles, though many countries and organizations are actively trying to stop the continuity of extrajudicial killings and summary executions in the Philippines.



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