Duterte v. Drugs: A Filipino Crime Story

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Pres. Duterte showing the diagram of drug trade network. Photo by King Rodriguez.

One of the most controversial issues right now is Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s war against drugs campaign. It’s a controversial issue not just here in the Philippines but also around the world. The campaign has met criticisms from human rights groups as well as the United Nations and U.S. president Barack Obama. Now, here’s my take about this hot issue in which I’m going to talk about the pros and cons of the campaign from my perspective as an ordinary Filipino citizen.

According to Article III, Sec 14 of the 1987 Constitution, “No person should be held answer for a criminal offense without due process of law.” In other words, there’s really a formal process when a person is convicted of a criminal offense and it’s up to the court to decide if the person is guilty or not. The legal system can be dubious sometimes thanks to what we’ve witnessed on the infamous Casey Anthony trial and the O.J. Simpson trial which was dramatized in the award-winning miniseries The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. These trials that I mentioned didn’t actually end up very well and they are situated in the United States but my point here is that there is always a legal process when a person is accused of a criminal offense no matter what. Whether it’s here in the Philippines or another country, any law agrees that there is a legal process on convicting a person charged with any criminal offense.

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Duterte’s “Change is coming” slogan. Photo by Firespoon from Redbubble.

When Pres. Duterte won the presidential election several months ago, he said that he will kill the criminals and urged the people to kill drug addicts. His presidential campaign was surrounded by controversies because of his dubious platforms. Also, he stated that one of the issues that he will tackle is the fight against drugs. Even back when he was still the Mayor of Davao City, he was already criticized by the Human Rights Watch for the extrajudicial killings of hundreds of drug users by the Davao Death Squad but Duterte denied any involvement or the existence of the group. If you think about it, we should have expected early on that we will go to the point where Duterte does an intensive campaign against drugs. He even promised that he will eradicate them within three to six months. We should have seen it coming given his reputation back when he was still the Mayor of Davao. He already warned us that he will fight against drugs. He did it. We’ve seen it coming but, somehow, we weren’t prepared by it. Perhaps it’s because we’ve always think that politicians doesn’t always live up to their promises but it’s a different case for Pres. Duterte. Most of the time, he’s serious about everything that he said.

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Packs of shabu. Photo by Boy Santos from The Philippine Star.

According to the Philippine Dangerous Drugs Board, 1.8 million Filipinos out of approximately 100 million used illegal drugs in 2015 which is down from 6.7 million in 2004. In Pres. Duterte’s state of the nation address, he said that there were 3 million drugs addicts around two to three years ago but it has increased to 3.7 million. The Amnesty International said that there is little evidence to show that this is true given the fact that the Philippines has a low prevalence rate of drug users compared to the global average according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Despite these, Pres. Duterte claimed that our country is becoming a “narco-state”. There’s obviously a huge contrast. You wouldn’t know if you will believe the Dangerous Drugs Board or the President himself and it appears that our country may not be a narco-state after all yet the President has an intensive campaign against drugs. Although, there’s no denial that there are drug syndicates here in the Philippines. If you will look at the brighter side, the drug problem in our country might have expanded if there’s no immediate solution so it might be necessary at all but the President claimed that the Philippines is becoming a “narco-state” with no evidence or data that could back-up his claim. But, whether we’re a narco-state or not, let’s think of it this way. Drugs are not good and we’ve been thought back when we were a child that drugs are bad and it can negatively affect your life. So, we really need to eradicate drugs as much as possible because it’s bad and, most especially, it’s illegal. But, the controversy that surrounded the war against drugs campaign is on how it was handled and managed. We can agree that we need to eradicate drugs but we cannot agree that the methods that the President used to conduct this campaign is humane and acceptable.

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Portrait of Pres. Duterte. Photo by Edwin Tuyay.

During Pres. Duterte’s inauguration speech, he mentioned that he has “seen how illegal drugs destroyed individuals and ruined family relationships” and he urged the citizens to kill suspected criminals and drug addicts. He also said that he would order the police a shoot-to-kill policy and would offer bounty for the killed suspects. Around three days later since the inauguration, the Philippine National Police (PNP) reported  that they had killed thirty (30) alleged drug dealers. Now, it’s a controversy that is still going on until today and it easily changed the course of our country. Some things happened like  Duterte threatened that our country will leave the United Nations after they criticized his anti-drug campaign, it jeopardized our country’s diplomatic relation with the United States in which Duterte gave offensive remarks to Pres. Barack Obama after he criticized the campaign as well, a rivalry was formed between Sen. Leila de Lima and Pres. Duterte, it caught the attention of the International Criminal Court, Duterte compared his anti-drug campaign to what Adolf Hitler did at the Holocaust, the Senate formed a committee that investigates the extrajudicial killings in the campaign and the list goes on and on. It’s still a continuing issue and it is expected to go on until Duterte declares our country as “narco-free”.

Now, let’s talk about the brighter side of the issue. Despite the negative impact  of the campaign, there is still a positive side on this. As I’ve stated, the brighter side is that there is now an extensive campaign against drugs which is something that the past administrations didn’t do. The drug problem in our country became such a serious topic and debate when Duterte started the campaign. We are now more aware about the drug problem in our country and Pres. Duterte is doing actions to prevent it from growing. He stated in a lot of his speeches that he is really dedicated on his war against drugs and he will not stop on doing it until the end of his term. We never combated drugs like this before so it’s actually good that there are actions to take down the drug problem in our country. Whether the number of drug users and syndicates are high or low, there should still be actions to take them down and stop it from growing. There is now a constant reminder that drugs are bad and it can kill you which leads to…

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Police exams a dead body after a drug bust in Manila ended in a shootout. Photo by Dondi Tawatao/Getty.

The killing of alleged drug suspects. Everyday in the news, you would encounter reports of extrajudicial killings of alleged drug pushers. According to a report, 6,095 people (as of the time of the writing) have been killed since the start of Pres. Duterte’s war against drugs campaign. That’s the reason why his campaign became controversial. His method in eradicating the drug problem in our country is inhumane and against the Constitution. As I’ve mentioned, it stated that no one should be charged with a criminal process without the due process of the law. Additionally, anyone accused should be presumed as innocent until the contrary is proved. So, our President’s war against drugs is actually against what is being said in the Constitution. My question about this issue is that why is nobody stopping the president’s campaign even though there’s already a strong affirmation that his campaign is against the Constitution or, if they can’t stop the campaign, they could also try to change the campaign into a Constitution-friendly one. In my own opinion, the only drug criminals that the authorities can kill are the ones who caused the death or injury of a police officer during a drug bust operation. According to Rule 8.1 in the operational procedure manual of the Philippine National Police (PNP), “the use of firearm is justified if the offender poses imminent danger of causing death or injury to the police officer or other persons.” In other words, any police officer can kill a criminal if they caused the death or injury of their fellow officer. The police’s usual excuse of “nanlaban sila” is actually a valid explanation but they have to prove it because, if it’s not like that but they still killed the criminal, it’s still going to be against the law.

In the documentary video above, they showcased Pres. Duterte’s war on drugs campaign and there is even a footage of an actual drug raid. Duterte said that the campaign will be on-going until the “last drug pusher is dropped dead” and he is also encouraging the people to kill any criminal. Looking at this video, you can see that it’s actually an effective campaign but not in a way that the people want. Let’s go straight to the point about this issue and I hope that this will be an eye-opener to the readers who either support or against the war on drugs campaign.

To the people who supports the war on drugs campaign, it’s good to know that you support the campaign against drugs because, whether our country is a narco-state or not, we have to suppress drugs simply because it’s bad and illegal. Drugs are a very serious problem in our country right now and it makes sense that Pres. Duterte is doing everything to eradicate it. Supporting the war on drugs campaign is actually admirable, for me, because I also support it but with reservations. But, I would also like to remind the supporters that you can support the campaign without agreeing with everything. You can support the campaign with reservations. You may or may not agree that the methods are inhumane but I can tell you that it’s against the Constitution so the only way to make his campaign a positive spin is to make the methods legal and agreeable with the Constitution.

To the people who are against the war on drugs campaign, I know that you are only against it because of the inhumane methods and the extrajudicial killings. You can fight your cause all day but you have to be reminded that the war on drugs campaign existed because there is a drug problem in our country and no one is significantly doing anything about it until Pres. Duterte sat at the Malacanang. Don’t fight against the campaign because fighting against it means that you’re not supporting a campaign that objects the use of drugs. You should fight the extrajudicial killings and the inhumane methods of the campaign. I support the campaign. I’m fine with the arrest and rehabilitation of the suspects but I’m against the extrajudicial killings because it’s too much and technically illegal. Drugs are a really serious problem in our country right now and we should consider the campaign as a step to suppress it. Since you are against the killings, try to protest that instead of the concept of “against drugs”.

To President Duterte, please rethink your ways in this controversial campaign against drugs. I know that you don’t care about the critics but, as President, try to consider the fact that the killings are against the Constitution and this could even lead you to an impeachment. There are many ways to eradicate drugs that are not against the Constitution. I really believe that there is a drug problem in our country and it needs to stop which is why I support it but with reservation. My only concern about the campaign is that the methods and killings are against the Constitution. People are afraid nowadays especially the fact that alleged drugs suspect are even killed. I want to point the word “alleged” which means that there’s no definite evidence or it’s just an accusation that the person is a drug pusher. The best way to make our country great is to make the people feel safe. I admire you for being a non-traditional politician but, for your war against drugs campaign, I believe that there are ways to suppress drugs without the extrajudicial killings or the inhumane methods that we see in the news. If you want the people to support your campaign, make it into something that people wouldn’t be afraid of. Due to the extrajudicial killings, your war on drugs campaign became a crime story.

As a Filipino citizen, what we need to do right now is to live and love our country. Whether you’re a supporter or against the campaign, one thing that we have in common is the love for our country and how much we want it to make it into a better one. If you want to do something about this issue as an ordinary citizen, the only thing that you can do is to spread awareness about how drugs are bad. If you know any person who is using drugs, tell that person to stop, not because he might get killed but, because it’s bad and it can affect their life. If you know any children, approach them right now and tell them to promise that they will not do drugs. Those are the only ways that you can do right now as an ordinary citizen of our country. You don’t need to kill a drug pusher as what the president encouraged but you can just talk them and stop. It maybe a small help but you could bring awareness. Pres. Duterte’s war on drugs campaign is not expected to stop in the near future. We don’t know what will happen in the coming days, weeks, months or even years in this campaign. This is going to be an endless Filipino crime story.

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Pres. Duterte during his state of the nation address. Photo by EPA.

(I would like to thank the Presidential Communications Operations Office for exclusively providing me a document of excerpts of Pres. Duterte’s speeches related to his war on drugs campaign. Click here for the citation page of the news articles that were cited in this post.)

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