By Marina Souliman
On May 9, Rodrigo Duterte was elected as the President of the Philippines. On May 10, President Duterte began the Phillipines’ war on drugs with fervor, in an attempt to eliminate the ever growing drug trade. In the span of six months, citizens and police officers dedicated to reducing drug dealers killed around 2,000 people accused of engaging in drug related activities, according to Reuters.
Drug usage in the Philippines has spiked over the years with a startling increase of 6.7 million users in 2004 from the previously recorded 20,000 in 1972, according to Alcohol Rehab, a database of information regarding addiction. With a methamphetamine, locally known as shabu, hitting the streets, there has been an even greater increase in drug abuse.
President Duterte was the mayor of Davao for 22 years. His mark on Davao is one of death squads which, according to Reuters, have so far killed 1,400 drug users and petty criminals since 1988. Once Duterte came into his presidency, vigilantes expanded to the streets of the Philippines, killing drug users and dealers. These actions and the large amount of killings brought forth attention from United Nations (UN) human rights experts who have warned that the violence is too immense.
“Claims to fight the illicit drug trade do not absolve the government from its international legal obligations and do not shield state actors or others from responsibility for illegal killings,” UN Special Reporter Agnes Callamard said about summary executions.
However, many do not see these killings as unjust. With support for Duterte’s presidency still raging, more anti-drug rhetoric is being introduced as advertisements explaining the war are being aired on public TV stations and movie theaters.
“In the pursuit of law and order, pursuant to my directions, you do not have to worry about criminal liability. I will go to the prison for you. I will take full legal responsibility, you just do it according to the books. But for those in government, there will always be a day of reckoning,” Duterte warned, according to Reuters.
In fear for their lives, thousands of drug users have turned themselves in to avoid being killed. However, the few available facilities have been overwhelmed. For example, the Department of Health-Treatment and Rehabilitation Center (DOH-TRC) in Bicutan has had to take in 1,557 patients despite its approved capacity of 550, according to Cable News Network (CNN).
“Most of them are here because of fear. The crackdown [has] made them fear that they will be incarcerated or even worse, killed. We’re relying on group therapies– one-on-one counseling has drastically been affected,” head of the DOH-TRC Center Bien Leabres said to CNN.
Despite protests from the international community and the UN, there is no indication that the Philippine forces will stop with the ever-increasing death toll.