The Filipino Drug War: Open Season On Dealers And Users

When someone speaks about tandem riding, most of us get a mental image of a couple being dorky and trying to be romantic. There’s typically an idyllic setting with sunshine and rainbows and puppies involved. In the Philippines, “riding in tandem” has taken on a much darker connotation.

When Rodrigo Duterte was sworn into office back in June after a landslide election victory, the 16th president of the Philippines followed through on his promise to clean up crime in the city by declaring war on drug dealers and drug users. He announced open season, allowing his police force and even encouraging his citizens to kill outright anyone they suspected of selling or using drugs. No one need worry about charging, arresting, or proving anything in court. If they suspect someone of selling or using, they can just go ahead and execute these people for their crimes.

Unorthodox, to say the least.

This has lead to an explosion of murders across the country. The New York Times released a special series by Daniel Berehulak, who spent 35 days in the Philippines to document the brutality unleashed by Duterte. Photographing 57 victims at 41 sites, the pictures show just how commonplace murdering in the street now is. The most common execution method involves one person navigating their motorcycle down the street with a passenger shooting from the seat behind them. It’s been nicknamed, “riding in tandem.” Not so rosy and cozy anymore.

As of December 3, there have been over 5,800 deaths in this war on drugs, with just over 2,000 attributed to police operations- the remaining 3,000+ as a result of citizens. Although the previous year’s murder numbers aren’t readily available to compare, over 1,000 deaths per month since Duterte’s announcement is not a coincidence.

Referred to as “extrajudicial killings,” these commonplace murders have been horrifying. But there is support both for and against this movement.

President-elect Donald Trump reached out to Duterte to offer his support for the unorthodox campaign. Both populist candidates, both men flaunted traditional media and political institutions, promising to bring about change to their respective countries.

“He wishes me well, too, in my campaign, and he said that, well, we are doing it as a sovereign nation, the right way,” claims Duterte. There has been no official comment from Trump’s camp to confirm this, but it seems as though Trump’s support has gone a long way to reestablishing a healthier relationship after the Philippines announced a separation from the US earlier this year.

Duterte has the support of many Filipinos in his country as well. Although the killings have been numerous and grotesque, this anti-narcotic effort is seen as definitive action by the government. With a court system in shambles and viewed as corrupt by the people, there are many who are seeing this as a great move by Duterte to start cleaning up the country without wasting time and money by tying up the already overwhelmed judicial system. They are welcoming this campaign, feeling as though this is an antidote to their fear of organized crime and drug dealers. Filipinos have been sharing plenty of their support online:

“Before innocent people are dying every day because of these drug addicts and pushers are earning billions of pesos and dollars. For us, better to kill these drug pushers and drug addicts than them killing the innocents.” - Jah Rastafari via Facebook

“We can now sleep peacefully and walk at night knowing that our president is serious in his war on drugs. We never had a president like him! He is true to his words, truly cares for his fellow men and a true leader! As a Filipino he is the best president a country could ever have! Slaughter might be harsh but I guess for drug peddlers, they deserve it.” - Daphnie A. Diamola via Facebook

“Philippines is a much safer place. Our president is a good president, compassionate. But he is also fair. If you break the laws, you will be arrested, if you resist, you get hurt, or die. For the rest of us law-abiding citizens we have absolutely nothing to worry about.” - Leidi Mae Arenas via Facebook

Except they kind of do. Without a proper process that respects their rights and constitution, this kill-first-ask-later methodology is incredibly flawed. There’s no judge, no jury, and no proper trial with punishment decided based on the severity of the crime. It’s not too far of a leap to assume there may very well be people getting killed who aren’t involved in the drug trade at all, but who are getting murdered as this is an opportune time to kill people without consequence. The lack of proper resources and funding mean that proper investigations into all deaths will not be happening. In fact, funeral directors across the Philippines have voiced their complaints about the influx of bodies coming to their parlors. Corpses are piling up in the city morgues, with one undertaker claiming as many as five bodies are showing up each night. It’s incredibly aggravating not to be able to provide numbers on the killings that might fall into this category, as it is unlikely the police and the government will put forth the money and resources necessary to properly investigate these deaths to ensure they were related to the current drug policy.

With much of the population living in poverty, there are many bodies going unclaimed, or funeral directors being forced to give massive discounts to next-of-kin who are trying to bury their dead. Additionally, many corpses are being left in the morgue because their relatives and friends don’t want to be associated with a drug “pusher,” despite the lack of evidence. Philippine senators have openly criticized the way Duterte is carrying out his war on drugs, demanding that he should take extra steps to ensure everything is done within the confines of the law. Unfortunately, Duterte has gone on record stating he would be “happy to slaughter” three million drug addicts; and he’s well on his way.

There is a serious divide across the country. With protests springing up both in person and online against Duterte, there is a surprising amount of respect and admiration for both the president and his director general of the Philippine National Police, Ronald dela Rosa. Seen as the driving force behind these killings, many have been treating dela Rosa like a rock star. They line up for selfies and flock to him for anything from a handshake to an autograph.

In a report obtained by Reuters on Friday, the senators point out one of the key issues with these extrajudicial killings:

“When the police deem themselves to be omnipotent, they are emboldened and more killings ensue; the duty to protect the people is thrown out the window.”

Duterte has created a razor-focused vendetta that is creating a misguided, cruel and uneducated attempt at treating the symptom of a much bigger issue. We’re now witnessing impunity in its finest form, masquerading as justice against drug dealers.

Perhaps someone should buy Duterte a dictionary so that he can look up the definition of genocide. A rampant drug trade can’t just be wiped out by killing thousands of your own people. Students of history know exactly where this kind of vigilante shit leads; this is an enormous risk to take with law enforcement and a democratic government. This is the exact definition of taking something too far. We will see the horrific repercussions of Duterte’s cavalier attitude towards due process and the law for years to come.

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