Even before“firebrand” Rodrigo Duterte was elected as president of Philippines, the country was being called out in the international arena for its extra-judicial killings carried out by police. Now, with Duterte in office since May 2016, the situation has only worsened.
In order to get votes, Duterte delivered violent political discourse in his campaign promises, openly supporting shoot-to-kill policies for criminals. Duterte has waged a war on drugs, and he has no mercy. He has said on record, “I don’t care about human rights, you better believe me.”
This attitude is not new, either – while mayor of Davao, a city in the south of the country, Duterte’s police department was known for issuing ominous warnings to petty offenders (including youth). Days after receiving these “warnings”, those offenders’ bodies turned up, stabbed to death. In May of this year, Duterte promised to kill 100,000 criminals if he was elected.
Now, Duterte is delivering on his promises and upholding his claim to the nickname “The Punisher”.
In early August, after the tally came up to over 400 dead and 4,400 arrested in just the first month, human rights organizations were in outrage over the state-condoned violence. While Duterte and his administration have recognized the abuses of power with the shoot-to-kill policies, they continue to show unwavering support for them.
Police statistics reflect that 3,000 people have been killed so far in Duterte’s war on drugs (almost 1,800 of which are categorized as “unexplained.”) Many of the deaths are attributed to suspected dealers instigating shootouts with police officers. Aiding The Punisher in his fight is the Philippine National Police Chief Ronald Dela Rosa (known as Bato, “The Rock”), who has also made controversial statements in his addresses to the public, such as “You know who the drug lords are. Would you like to kill them? Go ahead.” Dela Rosa later apologized for this statement and claimed it was an emotional outburst.
In addition to the war on drugs, Duterte has made clear his take-no-prisoner tactics against terrorism-linked groups like the Abu Sayyaf, which has ties to al-Qaida. On September 2nd, a bomb exploded in the middle of a popular market in Davao City (Duterte’s hometown), killing 14 and injuring 70. The government has accused the Abu Sayyaf group of perpetrating the attack, and in response is sending army battalions out, each into different areas, to weed out members of the group. Though Duterte claims there will be no waste of human life nor any destruction of fruit trees, he says that there may be collateral damage and will continue with the campaigns nonetheless.
The scariest part? This is only the beginning. Duterte is two months into a six-year term. He recently made global headlines for insulting President Barack Obama, resulting in the cancellation of a meeting between the two state heads that was intended for a discussion about these high killing rates, especially the unexplained deaths.
But this is about so much more than foul language – there are thousands of lives at stake if the official policies and the unofficial vigilantism continue unchecked.