Earth & Conservation

Filipinos Worry That They'll Be Victims of Duterte's Deadly Drug War

Many Filipinos support their president's harsh anti-drug tactics, even as they feel threatened by the thousands of extrajudicial killings that are taking place.

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A majority of Filipinos are worried they may become victims in the extrajudicial killings that have been taking place in the Philippines since July, as part of President Rodrigo Duterte's strong-arm war on drugs campaign. According to the Fourth Quarter 2016 Social Weather Survey, 78 percent of 1,500 adult Filipinos surveyed, believe they, or someone they know, will be a victim in the killings.

While some respondents support the president's harsh anti-drug efforts, 71 percent said they'd prefer drug suspects be caught alive. Since July 1, 2016, when Duterte first took office, through Dec. 14, 2016, Philippine National Police (PNP) data shows that police have arrested 40,932 drug suspects and have killed more than 2,000. The data also shows that 908,244 drug users and dealers have given themselves up during this time period.

There were an additional 2,886 murders during this time that are being investigated. At this time, it's unclear how many of the murders are connected with the campaign against drugs.

The use of methamphetamine in the Philippines has skyrocketed in recent years, largely influenced by Chinese meth production experts. "Cooks" are flown into the country from China by drug syndicates to work at meth labs.

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Duterte ran on a campaign of law and order, promising to fix the country's rampant drug problem. He even offered cash prizes to citizens for killing dealers themselves, which then prompted thousands of vigilante shootings in the months that followed.

"Close to 6,000 deaths have been reported over the six months since the new administration took office with a large number perpetrated by unidentified vigilantes," Jose Luis Gascon, chairman of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, told Seeker. "Some of those killed include women and children who are either caught in the crossfire or killed by mistake."

Drug dealers aren't the only group Duterte is targeting either. "Those principally targeted by the Duterte administration's anti-drug campaign are both drug traffickers and dealers as well as drug users," Gascon said. "The president believes that drug users are susceptible to eventually becoming dealers as well, and many if not all of them are possibly beyond redemption, who resort to crime to sustain their drug habit."

The extrajudicial killings are a "serious problem," said 39 percent of study's participants. Yet 85 percent of survey participants said they are "satisfied" with the way the drug war has been going, which includes 53 percent who said they are "very satisfied." One explanation is that, despite thousands of killing, the anti-drug campaign is actually doing what Duterte claimed it would: reducing the Philippines' drug problem.

Some 88 percent of survey respondents said the drug problem has decreased in their neighborhood since Duterte took office. However, Gascon argues that this is a perceived reduction.

"There is overwhelming public support for the Duterte administration's campaign because of a public perception that the drug problem has gotten out of hand and it's at the heart of rampant criminality, including different types of violent crime," Gascon said.

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"The public views the approach taken by the government as no-nonsense, one that's created 'results' at the community level because of the perceived reduction in incidences of these drug-related crimes," he said. "Because of this, there is yet to be significant public outrage at the deaths reported, even as some human rights defenders and church leaders have spoken up against the methods employed by law enforcement. The president has also suggested the human rights groups may eventually be targeted too, as they can be perceived as abaters of criminality."

Most of the survey respondents also think Duterte will eventually stop the extrajudicial killings. The administration is "serious" about solving the problem, reported 70 percent of those surveyed.

Gascon, on the other hand, is not so confident the killings will end any time soon.

"The current law enforcement operations are being supported and encouraged from the very top of the political hierarchy. No one has been charged or indicted, even as some investigations are being pursued," he said. "It is unlikely the killings will stop even [with] some cases of arrests being made of persons involved in the drug trade. For the killings to end, there must be a clear signal from the president, police director-general, and the secretary of Justice that those involved will be held accountable, and charges against violators of human rights will be vigorously pursued."

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