I know [Elvin] was sleeping, because it was 3:30 a.m. It was very quiet, like a twilight zone. The police entered my house”no knocking or anything. I asked, ?Why are you there?’ They didn’t respond. … I said, Sir, please! Sir, stop! Sir, please! Each time, I heard a shot. Sir, please! Shot. Sir, stop! Shot. It was six [gunshots] in total. They say my son shot them. No. They say my son ran. No. (If You Are Poor, You Are Killed 22).
On June 30, 2016, Rodrigo Duterte assumed office as the new President of the Philippines. This day would forever change the lives of many of the Philippines’ most vulnerable citizens: the poor and those addicted to drugs. The new president was elected by winning 39% of the popular vote. His biggest campaign promise? His commitment to free the country of ?undesirables’; namely drug dealers and drug users. To achieve this goal, he initiated a domestic drug policy more commonly known as the Philippine Drug War. Since this policy was enacted, more than 12,000 Filipino citizens have been killed either by police forces or other citizens in extrajudicial killings (Palatino).
Police operate with raids and are known to knock on the door of suspects and kill them on sight. The quote above is merely one example of a recount of police violence in a Filipino citizen’s home. The Filipino public are urged by the government to fight against their neighbors thought to be involved with drugs, either reporting them to the police or killing them themselves. The problem is growing with more and more Filipinos victimized by the government every day.
At the heart of the Philippine drug war lies the ?Oplan Tokhang’ project or ?Knock and Plead Operation Plan’ (If You Are Poor, You Are Killed 19). A major aspect of this project is a list compiled by police and community members of all the suspected drug dealers and users in a particular community. This list is then submitted to municipal and police authorities. Police officers in these communities often identify users or dealers based on personal knowledge or opinion, not evidence (If You Are Poor, You Are Killed 20). The police officers then use these lists to target houses where they will knock on the doors and demand that a person surrender to the police. The families of those targeted identify two potential responses from the drug user. They can either refuse to surrender, and potentially face death, or they can surrender in which they must ?voluntarily’ provide information, fingerprints, photographs, accept surveillance and drug testing, and pledge that they will no longer use drugs (If You Are Poor, You Are Killed 20). Upon submitting all of this information, many drug users and dealers face aggression later from the police and the greater community.
Police commonly kill citizens suspected of drug use in what are known as ?buy and bust’ operations. The police attempt to buy drugs from drug dealers and then supposedly kill the dealers in self defense. The use of force in self defense is extremely disputed because many of the dealers are known to not own weapons, and police are rarely injured or killed in these operations (If You Are Poor, You Are Killed 24). Additionally, many deaths labelled as ?buy and bust’ are actually police entering the homes of suspected dealers or users and killing them or simply killing them on the street. Even with witnesses, the police have the protection of the government, and are not being prosecuted. The president has addressed police officers saying: Do your duty,If in the process you kill 1,000 persons because you were doing your duty … I will protect you, and if they will try to impeach me, I will hurry up the process and we go out of the service together (Worley). By saying this, President Duterte is essentially encouraging police officers to kill suspected drug users legally or illegally.
Police are not the only ones killing citizens for drug use. President Duterte has encouraged the public numerous times to take matters into their own hands. In a campaign speech in a Manila slum, Duterte said to the public: If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful (Worley). Masked gunmen are known to show up and shoot people previously identified as drug dealers from the watch list. Several of these gunmen anonymously reported to Amnesty International investigators that they were oftentimes paid by police officers for their work. The masked killers said The rate dependsIt depends by the person. Usually we don’t have multiple targets per project, but [when we do], we’re paid per head (If You Are Poor, You Are Killed 37). The police are paying assassins to kill drug users, and there is rarely any legal action taken against the killers. These extrajudicial killings are rampant and are occurring with consent from the government at large.
A country that has demonstrated an overarching compliance with drug culture would be the Netherlands. The Netherlands openly tolerates the recreational usage and possession of non-medicinal drugs in its borders (Drugs). The Dutch view a drug free society as fundamentally unattainable and believe that their drug policy should instead focus on minimizing harm from drug use. Although drugs are not technically legal in the Netherlands; the law is not enforced in many scenarios.
In order to enact the drug policy in the Netherlands, the government first published the Opium Act, which distinguished between two different categories of drugs. The first, labeled ?hard drugs’ encompasses drugs with a high risk for harm including heroin, cocaine, amphetamines, and ecstasy. The other category, labeled ?soft drugs’ includes marijuana, hash, sleeping pills, and various types of sedatives (Drugs). The use and sale of hard drugs are harshly regulated by the Dutch government. It would be considered highly illegal to sell cocaine or heroin in the Netherlands. The usage and sale of soft drugs however, is ?tolerated.’ The Netherlands has operated under a policy of non-enforcement when it comes to the possession and sale of soft drugs. Coffee shops in the Netherlands are permitted to sell cannabis to adult Dutch citizens (Rolles). The Netherlands has enacted this policy in order to distinguish the use of drugs not identified as harms to society from drugs that can cause serious harm. Possession and sale of soft drugs is not prosecuted because they are not associated with a high risk to health (Drugs).
The success of this policy is outlined with a variety of statistics. The rates of cannabis usage in the Netherlands is lower than in neighboring countries and is significantly lower than in the United States. The rates of lifetime heroin usage in the Netherlands is 1/3 that of in the United States (Rolles). In the United States, both cannabis and heroin usage are prosecuted severely by the law in most states. These statistics show an interesting correlation between the open toleration of certain drugs and their usage. Additionally, only 14% of cannabis users say they could obtain other drugs from their cannabis source as opposed to 52% in neighboring Sweden (Rolles). This statistic in particular indicates the way in which the Opium Act has benefitted the country. The government wanted to separate the sale of ?hard drugs’ from the sale of ?soft drugs,’ making it much more difficult to find hard drugs in places where soft drugs are easily accessed.
Although the Netherlands’ drug policy is extremely different from the Philippines’, I believe that the Filipino government could take some aspects of the Netherlands’ policy in distinguishing between the use of drugs associated with harm and the use of drugs not associated with harm. Because Duterte’s campaign focuses so much on how drugs are a harm to society, it would be beneficial to scientifically and socially identify which drugs are actually causing a public nuisance and which drugs are solely providing the user with a personal high. The separation of drugs by type could provide Duterte’s administration with a more comprehensive understanding of their true affect on society. Additionally, the general concept of toleration for others could ensure that citizens are not getting murdered by the government for having an addiction.
Amnesty International, a globally influential non-governmental organization focused on human rights launched an investigation into the Philippines’ War on Drugs in January of 2017. They interviewed many families of victims, police officers, and low level members of the presidential administration. Following the investigation, the organization expressed deeply held concern with the killings, and identifies them as potential crimes against humanity (If You Are Poor, You Are Killed 62).
The organization offered several recommendations to a variety of leaders in the Philippines and abroad. To President Duterte, they suggest he immediately order an end to all police operations involving unnecessary or excessive use of force, in particular the use of lethal force during the arrest of suspected drug offenders (If You Are Poor, You Are Killed 62). This suggestion would require the police to avoid using excessive force when dealing with criminals and would also encourage the legal system to fairly and justly prosecute police involved in arrests involving injury and death. The organization also calls on him to end the use of any language that calls for or excuses violence against alleged drug offendersand recant previous use of such language (If You Are Poor, You Are Killed 62). I believe this suggestion would have particular impact on the situation in the Philippines. The President of a nation acts as their spokesperson, and a role model for its citizens. When the President is verbally encouraging something as heinous as murder, it makes it seems as though murder is a socially acceptable activity if the result is supposedly reduced crime. Duterte’s withdrawal of his previous statements could prove influential in changing the mindset of many Filipino citizens.
Amnesty International additionally offered recommendations to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. The organization states that Unless key steps recommended here are promptly taken, initiate a preliminary examination into unlawful killings in the Philippine’s violent anti-drug campaign and related crimes under the Rome Statute, including the involvement of government officials, irrespective of rank and status (If You Are Poor, You Are Killed 66). The Rome Statute was the statute that established the International Criminal Court. It established four international crimes: crimes against humanity, genocide, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. Under this statute, the court can investigate and prosecute crimes in which the government of a country is non complicit in an investigation (Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court). Encouraging the International Criminal Court to investigate the killings in the Philippines would incite a global reaction to the crimes.
In February of 2018, the International Criminal Court did in fact launch an investigation into the situation. Chief Prosecutor of the Court, Fatou Bensouda declared any person in the Philippines who incites or engages in acts of mass violence including by ordering, requesting, encouraging or contributing, in any other manner, to the commission of crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC is potentially liable to prosecution before the Court (Santos). In response to this, Duterte continues to deny that he has any role in condoning the killings.
Today, many police officers and members of Dutertes’ government continue to avoid prosecution for the crimes committed against Filipino citizens. Instead of being admitted into drug addiction therapy, people are being murdered for using or selling drugs. This policy is harming families and communities around the Philippines. The lack of concern for the wellbeing of some of the most vulnerable members of the Filipino society from the government is extremely harrowing. Hopefully one day the greater international community can figure out a way to stop these atrocities from continuing to occur.
The Philippines Drug Policy. (2019, Jul 31).
Retrieved October 24, 2021 , from
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