On June 30th, 2016, Rodrigo Duterte was inaugurated into office as President of the Philippines. He ran his campaign on the promise of ending the prominent use of drugs and narcotics in the country. Now, about 6 months into his presidency, over 6,000 suspected drug users and dealers have been assassinated by either encouraged vigilantes or police officers. Moreover, approximately 38,000 people have been jailed. In April, a month before he was elected, he made his intentions clear by stating, “All of you who are into drugs, you sons of (expletive), I will really kill you.”
The international community has been noticeably quiet about the situation in the Philippines, which is now being called the most deadly drug war ever. Three United States Senators, Republican Marco Rubio and Democrats Edward J. Markey and Chris Coons, sent a letter to the State Department stating that this drug war “appears to be a campaign of mass atrocities thinly disguised as a response to a public health emergency. Rather than address the systemic problems related to the country’s drug crisis and invest in treatment programs, President Duterte has instead pledged to kill another 20,000 to 30,000 people, many simply because they suffer from a drug use disorder.”
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, has also strongly condemned the actions of the president and calls for him to be investigated for murder. “It is unthinkable for any functioning judicial system not to launch investigative and judicial proceedings when someone has openly admitted being a killer.” In response, Duterte stated, “You go and file a complaint in the United Nations… I will burn down the United Nations if you want. I will burn it down if I go to America.” This accusation from al-Hussein comes from Duterte’s time as mayor in Davao, a coastal commercial city on Mindanao, the main southern island. He took a severe stance against drugs and took violent action against both users and dealers. He claimed after his term ended that “in Davao I used to do it (killing) personally” and that he “cleaned up the streets.” To a reporter, he also stated that “I do not want to commit a crime but if by chance, God will place me there, you all better watch out. That 1,000 will become 100,000. I’ll dump all of you into Manila Bay, and fatten all the fish there.” Duterte still maintains an approval rating of over 80%, even though he strongly supports mass killings.
Leila de Lima, currently the only government official in the Philippines who outwardly opposes Duterte, has received a lot of flack. Other officials have accused de Lima of corruption. She has also been accused of having an affair with her private driver by the president himself. At a rally of his supporters in August, Duterte publicly encouraged de Lima to “hang herself.”
In response to all of the hostility she has received, de Lima went on the record stating, “All of this — the slut shaming, the threats — it’s unprecedented. No one has ever been subjected to this by a sitting President, and it’s all fabricated. They’re doing it to discredit me, to embarrass me, to humiliate me, to vilify me — really portray me as an immoral, bad woman so that people will not listen to me anymore.”
The actions of Duterte are comparable to those of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. In 1975, the Communist group took complete control of Cambodia, sent people out of the cities and into the countryside, and began what is now referred to as the Cambodian genocide. The pro-US government was destroyed and replaced by an administration supported by China.
In October, Duterte traveled to Beijing and announced his official “separation” from the United States. The Philippines has been arguably the closest non-NATO U.S. ally since the early 1900s when Clark Air Base was established there. He then declared a realignment with China. He stated, “In this venue, your honors, in this venue, I announce my separation from the United States… Both in military, not maybe social, but economics also. America has lost.”
In terms of a death toll, Duterte’s war on drugs doesn’t come close to the horror of the Cambodian genocide, in which approximately 1.5 million-3 million people died. However, many world leaders, such as the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, are afraid to see the final number of casualties of Duterte’s war. There are about 104 million people in the Philippines, and as theorized by Duterte and his administration, 4 million of those people use or deal illicit drugs. He estimates that number will approach 10 million in the next three years. If he plans to kill or imprison all drug users, more people could die in this war on drugs than in the Cambodian genocide. In late September, 2016, he went on the record stating, “Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now, there is three million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them.” This quote and frame of mind clearly shows both his intent and his insanity.
A more reasonable comparison may be with the Great Leap Forward in China. In 1958, Mao Zedong started this cultural and social movement to further develop China as an industrial powerhouse. At the end of his efforts, approximately 45 million people, 7.5% of the population at the time, died from famine and harsh working conditions.
In the Philippines, the 10 million drug users that Duterte suspects in the next three years make up about 9.6% of the population of 104 million. With his brutal, inhumane methods, an amount of people proportional to that of the Great Leap Forward in China could be killed or imprisoned.
Overall, Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs has the capacity to reach a terrible, deadly end. The death toll rises each day, and casualties expand past that of drug users. The jails in the Philippines also suffer from severe overcrowding, and this only further results in the poor treatment of human beings. It is time for the international community to take action against Rodrigo Duterte and stop this clear violation of human rights.