The Philippines’ War on the Poor

With the goal of ending the war on drugs, Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte has promised his people a drug free country at the price of murdering his own citizens. While drug users represent only 3 per cent of the population, Duterte has resorted to extremes in order to ensure that the percentage falls to 0 by the end of his term in 2022. His executive order grants the Filipino police force the right to open fire on Filipino citizens who may be connected to drugs. However, due to widespread corruption within the police force, the police have taken advantage of the order by using the killings to enhance their own financial agenda. Violence, police corruption, and bribery have endangered the poor of the Philippines, making everyone a target of Duterte’s self-proclaimed war on drugs.

With an average of 34 killings a day for the past year, the Philippines’ war on drugs has transcended into a war on the poor with the police force going on a rampant killing spree that has resulted in the death of over 7,000 civilians. The election of President Duterte in May 2016 focused on two main platforms – fighting drugs and crime. However, his executive orders have only enhanced the crime scene by killing off the drug using community. Stating, ‘Hitler massacred three million Jews. There’s three million drug addicts. There are. I’d be happy to slaughter them,’ President Duterte demonstrates his hard stance on drug addicts and the extremes he’s willing to go in order to end the country’s drug problem. The international community continues to criticise Duterte by referring to his violent actions as ‘crimes against humanity,’ yet, Duterte refuses to back down from his actions. Justifying his brutal domestic policy, ‘How can that be when your war is only against drug lords, drug addicts, drug pushers? You consider them humanity? No. I believe not,’ Duterte attempts to dehumanise drug users as a defence of his killing spree. Duterte’s determination to rid the Philippines of illegal substances does not justify his unlawful actions.

Image courtesy of VOCAL-NY, © 2016, some rights reserved.

The main targets of Duterte’s orders are people linked to drugs from primarily poor neighbourhoods. According to the Amnesty report published on 31 January, ‘police officers routinely bust down doors in the middle of the night and then kill in the cold blood unarmed people suspected of using or selling drugs.’ Citizens have also reported that the police will even shoot those who try to surrender. The killings have not only taken an emotional toll on families and local communities, but also a finical one. The average funeral cost is between $1,000- $700, which is nearly triple the average monthly income, forcing families to hold wakes for up to two weeks and haggle with local funeral parlours until a price can finally be agreed upon. The financial burden has become so bad that many families leave the bodies on the streets for clean-up, which results in the churches holding mass burials for the unclaimed bodies.

Though the government has mainly used force to end the war on drugs, there are alternatives. The government has offered several ‘surrender programs’ for addicts to recover under the premise of no consequences. Unfortunately, the programs are severely underfunded and ineffective. The programs track drug users and persecute those who fail to recover. Many citizens are therefore afraid to access the nation’s health care services in fear of the government either knowing or assuming their drug history.

Waking up to streets lined with dead bodies has become the typical morning view for those living in impoverished Filipino neighbourhoods. Raids often occur at night where anyone with the slightest connections to drugs will be hunted down and shot. Though many of the police are responsible for the shootings, they often hire assassins to carry out their work. Bodies are priced around $201 a head, which is more than the average monthly salary, making drug killings an easy way to make money while still abiding by the law. Even the funeral homes are getting in on the action. Many policemen or paid assassins will bring the bodies to funeral homes to receive ‘a cut of the money’ from the funeral. Despite the known and widespread corruption, no police officer has been faced with criminal charges for the drug-related killings since Duterte took office. The police force has become untouchable due to its immense power and backing from the government.

The kidnapping and killing of a South Korean businessman back in October has been the only incident to turn Duterte’s attention to the corruption within the police force. Despite the murder receiving international coverage, Duterte still refuses to change his orders. Instead, the government has enlisted the military to join the police force in tackling the war on drugs. Although the killings are now dropping in numbers, with around 10 people dying per day, the conflict is still very brutal. The international community needs to recognise the tragedy taking place in the Pacific and urge the President to changes his ways on the war on drugs. The President’s determination to rid his country of drugs has transpired into a full-on attack against his people.

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