When your prime minister has made jokes about sexual assault, called the Pope “the son of a whore”, publicly mentions how much he likes using Viagara, and shows no signs of improving, the question is not “can he ever change”. The question becomes “how much worse can he get”. If the United States has President Donald Trump, then the Philippines has Prime Minister Rodrigo Duterte, who was sworn into office June 30th, 2016 after winning over two-fifths of the popular vote. As Prime Minister, one of his top priorities involves the country’s addiction to drugs. His solution to the problem? Killing all drug addicts and drug dealers he can find.
One year into his term, Duterte has been responsible for the deaths of more than at least seven thousand suspected drug users and dealers and still counting. Of those seven thousand deaths, about 3,116 have been carried out by the police, the rest taken care of by other security forces and by “unknown” gunmen. Most of these executions have been carried out in the midst of drug deals. Otherwise, the victims in question have been dragged out of their homes and shot in the streets. The allegations against these victims have been merely that- allegations. Despite testimonies from family members, friends and neighbors, these supposed drug addicts have been murdered. In a survey taken in March 2017, at least 75% of Filipinos have been afraid their friends and relatives would be killed in this Duterte’s ‘crusade’, and in the span of one year, more people have died under Duterte’s term than under any other prominent head of state in Filipino history.
As of March 2017, according to the Philippines’ Drug Enforcement Agency, Chief Isidro Lapeña has called the current war on drugs success. At least 1,308,078 drug suspects have surrendered to the government and at least 2.246 tons of illegal drugs have been confiscated since the beginning of Duterte’s term.
According to Duterte, however, he is far from finished with his war on drugs. He intends on continuing the campaign for the rest of his term up until every last “drug pusher” is eliminated. And although he has taken rein of much of the violence, he has also called on the public to participate in his war, even suggesting that unemployed Filipinos’ take part as a form of vigilante justice.
Human rights organizations all over the world and Western countries have criticized Duterte for his brutality. While Duterte has written these criticisms off as “crazies”, the prime minister of the Philippines does have one, if not unexpected ally. The United States of America.
To be more exact: Trump. The United States has held relatively friendly relations with the Philippines since the former gave the latter its independence. However, that shouldn’t stop the United States from being critical. President Trump seems to think otherwise though. Unlike his other western counterparts, Trump has praised Duterte for his policies mostly because of the former’s business interests in the Philippines. Mainly, it’s for the Trump Tower Manila, a residential building nearing that took almost five years to complete.
Perhaps both leaders share the same misinformed view on drug addiction. Drug addiction is not a choice, it’s an illness, proven to be partially hereditary much like alcoholism. With rehabilitation and counseling, Duterte could easily improve the Philippines’ drug situation by helping the people (that he’s supposed to be protecting) re-assimilate back into society as productive members. Instead, he’s blaming the victims of substance abuse for having developed the symptoms to begin with and destroying whatever potential they could’ve shown once cured. Maybe he thinks by killing off known drug addicts, he can scare the Philippines into condemning the use of drugs. He underestimates the urges of the body. Symptoms of withdrawal are often too severe for the individual to handle if they decide to cut themselves off cold turkey.
Furthermore, if Duterte really wanted to cure the Philippines of its addiction, he could have tackled drug distribution or even prevalent drug trafficking rings. To effectively deal with a widespread problem, it is more effective to deal with the source rather than just the symptoms. In this particular case, Duterte is only tackling the symptoms, individual drug addicts, rather than the source, the drug trafficking rings and the systems that allow individuals to get drugs.
Still, Duterte’s current crusade on drugs calls to mind United States’ own war on drugs, spearheaded by President Ronald Reagan, in the 1980’s. And in the midst of all of the violence, we need to ask this: who is Duterte really targeting? Duterte’s current victims consist of individuals somehow associated with drugs, but save for a few rare cases, its individuals of Duterte’s social class would be far away from these substances. It should be noted that Duterte is an upper class man and the son of a lawyer and school teacher, which would probably explain his lack of empathy for the impoverished. While drug abuse can cause poverty for its victims, many addicted drug users also tend already be in poverty when they start. By targeting the impoverished, Duterte could reduce the amount of funds needed to support these individuals and potentially use them for his own interests.
Maybe Duterte should rename his ‘War on Drugs’ to ‘War on Poor People’.