Pubdate: Thu, 05 Jan 2017
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)
Author: Robert Muggah (Igarape Institute, SecDev Foundation)


Foreign governments are keeping noticeably quiet as the Philippine
president Rodrigo Duterte is leading one of the world's bloodiest
anti-drug campaigns

[photo] Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte salutes with other military
officers during an anniversary celebration of the Armed Forces.
Photograph: Erik de Castro/Reuters

Even the most adamant supporters of the war on drugs agree that it is
failing. At a major UN summit on drug policy earlier this year, many
member states argued forcefully for a more balanced and humane approach.
But there's one anti-drug crusader who refuses to face the facts. For the
past six months Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines has waged
one of the world's most vicious counter-narcotics campaigns.

Duterte campaigned for president with a pledge to clean up the drug menace
for good. Within days of winning the election he launched a scorched earth
approach targeting anyone suspected of being involved in consuming or
selling narcotics. During his inaugural address on 30 June, the one-time
mayor of Davao city vowed to "slaughter these idiots for destroying my

And kill them he has. The national police estimates that more than 6,000
people were assassinated by law enforcement, paramilitaries and vigilantes
since 1 July 2016. The police say that at least 2,000 people were shot and
killed by officers in "self defence" during anti-drug operations. Around
33 people are killed for every one person injured, making this the most
deadly drug war ever. Another 38,000 people have reportedly been jailed,
fuelling a crisis in the country's overpopulated prisons.

The president exults in the bloodbath. He recently boasted of killing
suspects during his time as mayor, saying in "Davao I used to do it
personally", suggesting that summary executions are tolerated at the very

The president claims to have "cleaned up the streets" of Davao during his
roughly two decades in power, calling it one of the world's safest cities.
Although the city is certainly cleaner and features new legislation that
improves crime reporting, claims of public safety are vastly overstated.
Indeed, publicly available data on crime shows the city posted the highest
rates of murder and second highest rates of rape in the country between

Duterte has a nasty habit of playing fast and loose with the facts. In a
bid to give credence to his drug war, his team exaggerates and invents
data. For example, Duterte inflated the estimated number of drug users in
the country, stating that there are currently 4 million users -- with as
many as 10 million projected by 2020. Yet the country's own drug
authorities contend that the number of users of hard drugs is much lower.
The prevalence rate for drug use by Filipinos is actually closer to 2.3%
(pdf), roughly half the global average. Inflammatory rhetoric and dodgy
data have real world consequences. Not only can they incite violence, but
they also determine the shape of government policy.

Yet Duterte's tough on crime bombast goes down well with Filipinos. His
use of Visayan slang (rather than just Tagalog or English) marks him as
one of the people, and his approval ratings are topping 85%, though this
is typical for first year presidents. Nevertheless, there are signs that
the opposition is beginning to rally, with some senators calling for his
impeachment. His authoritarian tendencies are also starting to worry civil
liberties experts: at a press conference he responded to one question by
saying "just because you're a journalist you are not exempted from
assassination", and last month he threatened to kill human rights
activists because of their criticism of his crackdown on crime.

Duterte is upending the country's international image. On the one hand, he
has undermined the prospect of a serious and evidence-based strategy to
prevent drug abuse problems, including of "shabu", a highly addictive
methamphetamine with dangerous side effects. His dragnet collapses users
of a wide range of drugs with devastating effect, including violating
basic human rights. This kind of impunity cannot be tolerated.

It may be time to consider divesting from companies that are directly and
indirectly fuelling the massacre of Filipinos

But foreign governments are noticeably quiet about Duterte's bloody
campaign. The White House recently condemned statements by the president
but is reluctant to take action for fear of jeopardising the visiting
forces agreement and other geo-strategic priorities in the region. For his
part, US president-elect Trump speaks admiringly of Duterte's antics. In
addition to cozying up with China, Duterte recently threatened to withdraw
from the UN in response to criticism of his drug war. Soon after, the UN
special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings cancelled a visit to the
country after the president imposed unprecedented conditions on her visit.

There are signs that human rights specialists are beginning to fight back.
Religious and civil society groups are already mobilising to push back
against the state-sanctioned killings. The Philippines former secretary of
justice and chair of the Commission on Human Rights, Leila de Lima, is one
of the president's most vocal critics. Outside of the Philippines, the UN
special rapporteur on the right to health called for drug dependency to be
treated as a public health issue and the decriminalisation of consumption.
What's more, the 18-member UN committee on economic, social and cultural
rights took Duterte to task for the massacre of suspects.

Bolder action is needed. The international criminal court could start by
treating the situation in the Philippines as a "crime against humanity"
and opening an investigation. The chief prosecutor has already expressed
she is "deeply concerned" about the violent crackdown on drug users and
suspected dealers. The president responded with characteristic bravado,
describing foreign lawyers as "idiots" and the threats as "bullshit". The
UN security council can also refer the situation to the ICC in order to
investigate the president and other senior officials involved in the

The international community can also consider economic sanctions. Duterte
has told worried businesses to "pack up and leave", claiming that the
Chinese would happily take their place. Perhaps foreign businesses should
take his advice. The European, American and Nordic Chambers of Commerce
would do well to revisit the compatibility of their investments and
shareholder concerns with systemic violations of human rights. It may be
time to consider divesting from companies that are directly and indirectly
fuelling the massacre of Filipinos.

Foreign governments should also consider withdrawing their aid to the
Philippines if no change of direction materialises. The US started taking
steps in this direction. After voicing their alarm with the president's
alleged involvement in assassinations, the US Millennium Challenge Corp
deferred renewal of a poverty reduction programme "subject to a further
review of concerns around the rule of law and civil liberties". An earlier
$434m ( UKP#353m) dollar package expired the month before Duterte's taking
office. Other aid agencies should follow suit. Duterte will no doubt brush
it off, but it's time to show that short-term financial imperatives should
not trump human rights.

Robert Muggah is research director of the Igarape Institute and SecDev
Foundation. He also advises the Global Commission on Drug Policy
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