The reality in the Philippines is marked by the Duterte’s so-called War on Drugs, one that was supposed to be over in three to six months, according to his own promise – one in a long line of broken promises. Duterte's murderous campaign against drugs has so far left 20,000 dead. They are known as deaths under investigation (DUI) in an effort by the police to change the terminology and distort the figures, thereby making it harder to link the killings to the President's campaign.
A significant number of the people killed never faced conviction but were sentenced to death by the police or unknown hitmen, representing a clear breach of basic human rights. Rather than targeting drug lords and other syndicated big-time suppliers of drugs, this campaign preyed on those with lower incomes and those who live in poorer areas.
For instance, when the government uncovered billions of pesos worth of narcotics from China found in a warehouse in Metro Manila, no big-time suppliers in the country, including the President’s son Paulo Duterte, were accused or convicted. The only person sent to jail in this supposedly big drugs case was a lowly warehouse caretaker.
After the fall of the Marcos dictatorship 30 years ago, the Philippines became a beacon for democracy and human rights in South East Asia (SEA). The reality has dramatically shifted as human rights took a backseat under this administration. Citizens fell prey to Duterte's populism where they are offered shortcut solutions to complex problems in the form of promises with consequences that are against their interests. This populism, with conservative imagery, is directly aimed at appealing people’s needs, needs that arise directly from poverty and unemployment.
The country's hard-won battle to end contractualization is inching to victory, not to Duterte's credit but rather to that of opposition legislators who have fought for it for decades.
Duterte has similarly encouraged violence in his public statements against human rights defenders. He has called on the police to behead or shoot down human rights defenders. The list of the people that Duterte threatened with violence is a long one: women, indigenous peoples, workers, journalists, etc.Under the guise of his war against drugs, any form of opposition against his policy to kill is framed as an attempt to destabilize him. By distorting laws to his will, anything that goes against his authoritarian policies is an "obstruction of justice".
Civil society is suffering first hand from the consequences of the “war on drugs”. Citizens were promised safety, but the violent implementation of the campaign shows the complete opposite. In Caloocan, one of the biggest cities with urban poor communities, seven people were killed every night at the height of the killings.
The climate of fear in some cities is so strong that residents self-impose curfews or limit their movements and access and usage of public spaces at night. This fear is accentuated by having security forces door-knocking on households asking if they are involved in drugs or door-knocking local leaders of social movements asking about their involvement in anti-government actions. Political leaders have also earned Duterte’s fury. He has made the most outspoken senator, Leila de Lima, a political prisoner while targeting leaders of the Akbayan Party in absurd cases of political persecution. Senator Risa Hontiveros who took in witnesses in cases of youth killings was served with kidnapping charges by the Ministry of Justice.
In this context, the mounting international awareness and pressure and support are key elements in the Filipino struggle. As in many parts of the world where democratic spaces are closing in and human rights violations occur, it’s up to international organizations and institutions active in the defence of human rights to step forward. The grounds for an international response have been set, Duterte is regularly violating international treaties and agreements on human rights and even threatens to expel, arrest and kill persons who want to investigate his drug war.
Duterte's propaganda machine has also distorted the public discourse on the War on Drugs. It does not only trap Filipinos in the Philippines in an echo chamber, it also victimizes Filipinos in the diaspora including those in Europe (there are 1.5million Filipinos in Europe). The notion of fake news has become very trendy but in some parts of the world it has already reached a state of horrifying control.
SOLIDAR would like to show its commitment to supporting the civil society struggle in the Philippines and defending human rights and the people who fight for them.