Written by Alexa Pellegrini ’20
On September 27, 2018 President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines responded to inquiries about the nation’s anti-drug war. “My only sin is extrajudicial killings,” Duterte disclosed in a statement to government officials that may be used as evidence in International Criminal Court (ICC). This was the first time that Duterte publicly acknowledged using extrajudicial force.
Two years ago, Duterte stepped into office with the promise to crack down on illegal narcotics. Today, the number of extrajudicial killings exceeds 20,000, according to senator Antonio Trillanes. Trillanes was arrested shortly after making this claim on charges of rebellion. Members of the European Parliament and activist groups such as International Federation for Human Rights have accused Duterte of falsifying evidence to hide his crimes and allowing drug lords to manipulate Philippines-based NGOs. In April, a lawyer representing two men, who said they were assassins for Duterte, filed a 77-page complaint that supplemented the claims of Duterte’s opponents.
Despite repeated accusations of violating human rights, Duterte has openly discussed his criminal past. In December 2016, he confirmed to BBC that he shot and killed three men several hours after Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque denied the incident. Weeks later, he admitted to throwing kidnapping suspects out of a helicopter. Martin Anadar supported Roque, calling Duterte’s admission an “urban legend.”
Duterte and his spokesmen are emboldened by statistical evidence that supports the war on drugs. A recent poll conducted by the Social Weather Stations found that 65 percent of Filipino adults are satisfied with Duterte’s campaign, and urban net satisfaction remained “good.”
Roque recently described President Duterte’s style of leadership as “Cariño Brutal” (tough love). It is arguable that Filipinos feel safer supporting their leader rather than opposing him, lest they meet the same fate as Trillanes or become a victim of police. Human rights violations have long been at the heart of the Philippine state. Before the war on drugs, police in Bagong Silang, a drug-laden relocation site in Manila Bay, were called bunwaya (crocodiles) and linta (leeches). Detainees negotiated with police by offering money, favors, and goods in exchange for freedom; in other instances, police took aim and fired without question. For decades, Filipino officials have has enforced the idea that police are saviors in not simply a war on drugs, but a war of “good” against “evil.” Secret detention centers, kidnapping, extortion – these horrific tactics were normalized before the war.
Duterte has criticized extrajudicial violence, but has not proposed a plan to target corruption in the criminal justice system. Fatou Bensouda will investigate Duterte in the ICC. Until the Philippines is under new leadership, the victim count will likely rise.