After winning the May 2016 presidential election and starting his term in June that same year, Rodrigo “Roa” Duterte became the Philippines’ 16th president.
Soon after taking the presidential seat, President Duterte launched a nationwide campaign against drugs. Like any drug-related armed campaign worldwide and throughout history, the whole ordeal became bloody real fast.
Tens of thousands of extrajudicial deaths were reported in the first year of the drug war. Most, if not all of the casualties came from the poor communities.
Duterte’s strong stance against drugs is the backbone of his domestic policy. He said it is was an extension of the anti-drug program he initiated when he was still the Mayor of Davao city.
The Campaign Promises
The 2016 presidential election was of all things dull. The live debates, online mudslinging, and PR stunts of the five competing presidentiables were like scenes from a reality TV series. And most Filipinos just love to watch real-life dramas.
One of the hopefuls, then Mayor of Davao City, Rodrigo Duterte was the loudest among the bunch. He is unrelenting and boisterous in his stand against illegal substances, particularly drugs. Duterte would even threaten drug pushers that he would kill them if they wouldn’t leave the country.
The candidate from Davao also became more famous as he boasts that he’ll eradicate the drug problem tormenting the country in three years. He promised that he will implement the same level of firmness and resolve that made Davao City the fourth safest city in the world. The claim was according to the data released by Numbeo.com, a user-contributed survey site.
The report of the Philippine National Police (PNP) for 2011-2015 tells another story. The national police agency recorded 1,032 murder cases from Davao City, the highest in the country. They also ranked 2nd overall nationwide in terms of rape with 843cases reported.
The War on Drugs
He immediately acted on his promises after the start of his term by creating an interagency body that would fight against illegal drugs. The group created with Executive Order No. 15 was composed of 21 agencies. It aims to ensure the effective implementation of anti-illegal drug operations and persecution of big-time drug personalities and street-level drug pushers and users.
The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency led the agencies involved in executing the operations. They focused on prosecuting the cases with relations to drugs, conducting a countrywide advocacy program, and implementing drug rehabilitation campaigns.
The intention seemed orderly on paper, but what happened next drew flaks from local and international groups.
In one of his speeches, the president urged the people to kill suspected criminals and drug addicts.
He also said he would also support and back the Philippine National Police in a shoot-to-kill campaign against suspected individuals, adding that he would offer a bounty for dead suspects.
On July 2016, the PNP announced that 30 alleged drug dealers were killed. They later reported that between May 10 to July 7, 103 suspects were executed instead.
On August 2016, President Duterte said that the Chinese triad and Sinaloa cartel was involved in the Philippine illegal drug trade. He also named more than 150 high-valued politicians, law enforcement officers, and judges from his anonymous but “reliable” source. Most of those listed in the records protested and questioned the authenticity of the list because some were already separated from their agencies and a few were already dead.
On the same month, the presidential spokesperson said that Duterte accepted the proposed Congressional Investigation into extrajudicial killings chaired by one of his chief critics- Senator Leila de Lima. The president later exposed that the opposition senator was having an affair with her driver, a married man, Ronnie Palisoc Dayan.
Duterte asserted that the driver was the collector of the drug money the opposition senator receives from her partner drug dealers. The evidence Duterte possessed were allegedly wiretaps and cash flow records that prove his accusations. He also said that an unnamed foreign country gave that information to him.
Senator Leila de Lima was jailed in February 2017 with the charges in relation to a suspected collaboration with a drug-trafficking ring.
The United Nations human rights committee also joined in the fray because of the alarming rise of drug-war linked deaths. UN Special Rapporteur, Agnes Callamard said that because of the president’s coaxing and his statement that gives the Filipino citizens the “license to kill”, the mentality of some of the people in the country became accustomed to the inhumanity that’s currently plaguing the nation.
Duterte threatened to withdraw the Philippines from the United Nations and proposed to form a separate group with China and some African Nations as a response to the statement of Callamard.
Ernesto Abella, the presidential spokesperson then, later clarified that the country will not leave the UN.
Ever since President Duterte commenced the nationwide anti-drug campaign, the administration received numerous criticisms from local and international critics, media, and humanitarian groups. His actions and statements suggesting an apparent disregard for human rights to satiate the bloody drug war was the key argument in the human rights cases thrown at him.
The War on Drug in the recent report has claimed more than 12,000 lives. Individuals, including minors from poverty-stricken communities, are regrettably a huge part of the lives lost in the anti-drug campaign.
Kian Loyd delos Santos was probably the most notable loss in the drug war.
According to the police report, the 17-year-old, senior high school student tried to escape when he saw the policemen approaching him. Delos Santos then allegedly drew his gun and indiscriminately shot at the law enforcement officers. This prompted the leader of the task force, PO3 Arnel Oares to shoot back in self-defense.
The autopsy report declared three bullet entry points: the first was at the back of the head, the second one was behind the left ear, and the last was inside the left ear delos Santos.
A pistol, some cartridges, and sachets of methamphetamine were then “found” in the possession of the cold body.
The witness accounts and CCTV footage disagree with the official police report.
The office of the president called the event an “isolated” case. This was unsurprising as the president himself referred to the youth killed in the drug war as collateral damage during his interview with Al Jazeera.
Delos Santos dreamed to become a cadet in the Philippine National Police Academy and was also in favor of the war on drugs, a classmate and close friend of his told in an interview.
The young Duterte supporter was just one of the at least 54 people under 18 who were killed in vigilante-style killings and police operations. This was according to the data published in July 2017 by Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center.
Duterte responded to public outcry over the killings particularly of children, by removing the PNP out of the anti-drug operations in October 2017. The bloodshed declined significantly but has not totally stopped. But still, Duterte said that he plans to reinstate the police force back in the campaign.
An investigation by human rights advocates found that law enforcement officers and their agents have often times carried out the extrajudicial killings of suspected drug users by falsely claiming self-defense. The police agency retorted, claiming that the officers involved in the killings were dismissed and some are still being investigated.
Only three law enforcement officers, those linked to the death of delos Santos were served with warrants of arrest in the whole course of the drug war. It happened just this February 2018, 6 months after his death.
The ICC Case
With the Philippines’ current situation, the International Criminal Court decided to initiate an inquiry into the accusations of crimes against humanity by Rodrigo Duterte, in the fierce campaign of his administration on the war on drugs.
Fatou Bensouda, an ICC prosecutor said that her office would be the one to study and judge the crimes in relation to the war on drugs campaign committed since the first day of President Duterte’s presidential stint. This will be ICC’s first preliminary examination in a south-east Asian country.
According to Gary Alejano, the move validates the claims against the Philippine president. Alejano is an opposition politician who filed an impeachment complaint against Duterte last year and he was also the one who submitted the evidence to ICC. He also said that ICC’s action is a ray of hope for the victims on those affected by the war on drugs.
A political science advisor and a long-time political analyst from the University of the Philippines, the country’s state university, said that this will be a momentous and a notable progress from the current situation.
He said that Filipinos are currently lost on who to approach if their friends or family become casualties on the war on drugs. The law enforcement agencies might not give that much assistance because their officers are the ones handling the cases. The Secretary of the Department of Justice also won’t budge and claims that there are no extrajudicial killings.
He also added that the Philippines is currently in a state of confusion and uncertainty that the intervention of ICC might just be the one that will salvage the country from the economic and emotional damages the drug on war left on its destructive path.