“Find them all and arrest them. If they resist, kill them all.” This was Mr. Duterte’s hard line against the drug traffickers during his presidential campaign in 2016, which he won. This whole mission that Mr. Duterte has against drug cartels, originates from his 22 years tenure as mayor of Davao City. He promised the people that, just like how he cleaned criminals in his city, he would do the same for all of the Philippine. After he became president on June 30, 2016, he launched a brutal war against drug cartels in the Philippine that led to the deaths of over 12,000 Filipinos, mostly urban poor. Around 2555 of those killings were done by the Philippine National Police. President Duterte and his party officials fully supported these actions and even incited the killing which brought a huge amount of condemnation from the human rights group. Despite all the criticism from the Philippine and beyond, President Duterte continued in his mission even to this day. So the question arises, what success did all this death achieve?

According to Colonel Romeo Caramat who was the Police chief in Nueva Ecija province, the volume of crime had decreased as a result of the drug war, but users could still buy illegal drugs “anytime, anywhere” in the Philippines. The whole “Shock and awe” tactics didn’t provide the result it was supposed to. Drugs are still flowing in and the numbers of addicts in the Philippine aren’t going down.

Experts believe the reason behind that is because the “big bosses” who run these drug cartels remain untouched. It’s only the low-level thugs that get killed or arrested. Because of the Philippines’ poor economic condition, it’s not difficult to replace those thugs.

In June this year, the Philippines authority seized 756kg (1,667lbs) of crystal methamphetamine, estimated at 5.1 billion pesos ($102m). Soon after President Duterte threatened the drug cartels by saying, “If you destroy my country distributing 5.1 billion pesos worth of shabu … I will kill you.”

But, this kind of threat isn’t new as he has been delivering threats like this since 2016; yet the drugs are flowing in. Ex-police chief like Caramat believes that there needs to be a new strategy against drugs. Instead of straight-up killing those low-level thugs, he believes police should monitor them or give them incentives so that they can lead to the “big fishes”, otherwise drugs will continue to come.

Protest by local human rights groups, remembering the victims of the drug war, October 2019.

Despite President Duterte’s war on drug’s failure to stop the flow of drugs, the general population of the Philippine actually has somewhat of a positive outlook towards it. Researchers have found that two out of three Filipinos believe that the number of drug users in their area has dropped since Mr. Duterte came to power in 2016. Many of them feel safe to go in certain areas that used to crawl with drug cartel members and drug users. Because of the severe crackdown by the police, many of the low-level gangs were uprooted and many went underground. This has allowed a sense of security among the common Filipino.

Without a doubt, the war on drugs that President Duterte carried out is a violation of human rights. Even though the Police denies it, there are strong pieces of evidence that suggest some of the victims of the crackdown were falsely accused. Despite all that, this whole initiative still has quite a lot of support because of its success at putting fear at the heart of criminals. However, based on the recently seized drugs, we can see that Philippine still remains a major transshipment point for illegal drugs.

Recommended Reading

‘I will kill you’: Philippines’ Duterte renews drug war threat. (2020, 6 5): Aljazeera: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/06/05/i-will-kill-you-philippines-duterte-renews-drug-war-threat/

Philippines’ ‘War on Drugs’ : Human Rights Watch: https://www.hrw.org/tag/philippines-war-drugs

Rodrigo Duterte’s lawless war on drugs is wildly popular: The Economist: https://www.economist.com/briefing/2020/02/20/rodrigo-dutertes-lawless-war-on-drugs-is-wildly-popular

Tom Allard, K. L. (2020, 2 7). Exclusive: ‘Shock and awe’ has failed in Philippines drug war, enforcement chief says: Reuters: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-philippines-drugs-performance-exclusi-idUSKBN2010IL