Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte vowed today to continue his murderous “war on drugs,” saying “it will be as relentless and chilling as on the day it began.”
Speaking before members of the Senate and House of Representatives for his third State of the Nation Address, Duterte also accused the country’s human rights advocates of failing to criticize “drug-lordism, drug dealing and drug pushing.”
“Let me begin by putting it bluntly: The war against illegal drugs is far from over,” Duterte said two minutes into his 48-minute speech. He noted how drug trafficking had become rampant. “That is why the illegal drugs war will not be sidelined,” he said.
Since Duterte’s first day as president on June 30, 2016, up to June 30, 2018, more than 4,500 people have been killed in what the Philippine National Police (PNP) calls lawful anti-drug operations, alleging that the suspects fought back during raids. Thousands more have been killed by unidentified assailants throughout the country.
Research by Human Rights Watch, other rights groups, and the media have shown that police officers and their agents have routinely executed unarmed suspects during these anti-drug operations and, in many instances, planted evidence such as drugs and weapons on the bodies of victims to justify their killing. Most of the killings have occurred in impoverished areas of Metro Manila, but there has been an increase in killings in Cebu and other cities.
Although the PNP reports that it has disciplined police officers found to have committed abuses during these raids, not one police officer has been convicted for “drug war” abuses.
Duterte’s attack on human rights advocates for being silent on drug dealers is merely an attempt to deflect their criticism of his abusive campaign. The leading public critic of the drug war, Senator Leila de Lima, has been detained since February 2017 on politically motivated drug charges in apparent retaliation for leading a Senate inquiry into the drug war killings.
Duterte’s promise to relentlessly pursue the war on drugs can only mean more suffering for poor urban Filipinos who account for most of the campaign’s victims. It can only mean the perpetuation of impunity and zero accountability. Duterte thumbed his nose at the International Criminal Court, which has launched a preliminary examination on the complaints filed against Duterte in relation to the killings. The ICC, as well as the United Nations Human Rights Council should take this open challenge and ensure that the president and his chief subordinates in the “drug war” are held to account.