The “war on drugs” has been ongoing ever since President Rodrigo Duterte took up office last June 2016, in line with his promises to eradicate crime and drugs in the country. The campaign has involved an increased crackdown on illegal drugs throughout the country, most notably in a program known as Operation Tokhang.
While the campaign continues to garner support, many human rights activists and international groups have criticized it for the deaths that have occurred. The administration remains steadfast on the need for tougher measures in combating crime and drugs in the country, while international and local opposition groups push for human rights and alternative measures.
The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), Philippine National Police (PNP), Department of Health (DOH), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the President Communications Operations Office (PCOO) presented extensive reports and “genuine figures” on the nationwide drug issue. Through organizing #RealNumbers, a social media event and forum aired live on Facebook and PTV4, the respective agencies came up with a collective idea to hear the voices of the Filipinos.
As indicated by reports from PDEA, PNP, and National Bureau of Investigation, only 1,847 or 19.6 percent out of 9,432 homicide cases they have recorded from July 1, 2016 to March 31, 2017 were drug operations-related. Moreover, the number of those that have been confirmed as not affiliated with the drug war was 1,894 while the remaining 5,691 murder cases were still being investigated. The government, however, denies the approximately 9,000 deaths associated with the campaign against drugs.
The agencies’ information additionally showed that out of 67,609 drug users and pushers required in police operations, 64,917 or 96 percent have surrendered, while just around four percent have been killed. Despite the increasing number of deaths, the PNP reports a decrease in the aggregate number of crimes in the country. The report likewise demonstrates a total of 53,509 drug operations since the president took post. Paul* (III, BSA) observes that the campaign has raised awareness on the drug problem in the country. “Awareness on illegal drugs and its negative effects to the people using it has been improving over the last few months probably because of the strong campaign of the current administration,” he says.
Likewise, Anna* (III, MGT) suggests that due to the campaign, more restrictions have been imposed, making it more difficult for users to access illegal drugs.
The operation however, was suspended temporarily on January 2017 due to the kidnapping and murder of Korean businessman Jee Ick Joo in Camp Crame. The program was relaunched in March, under promises from PNP Chief Director General Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa that the campaign would be “bloodless”.
DLSU Political Science Department Professor Gladstone Cuarteros expresses some skepticism over the suspension and “bloodless” claim. “Since March, there are a lot killings that happened after [the] resumption of [Oplan] Tokhang,” he says. “The brief suspension was because of the public disgust over what happened to the Korean and the ordinary poor people suspected of being linked to drugs.”
Third party support, opposition
In the past months since January 2017, people have displayed lower trust ratings for both President Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo. In January 2017, the survey showed 83 percent and 62 percent trust ratings among Filipinos, respectively, while in April 2017 they showed 78 percent and 58 percent, respectively.
Cuarteros similarly observes the declining support. “[The campaign against drugs] is slowly losing support from the people, the Pulse Asia and SWS surveys show that. People do not want the killings although they support the anti-drug campaign. What this means is that people want judicial process and respect of human life,” he explains.
He also laments that the drug issue in the country would require a long-term solution that would not be solved by the current methods. “In the end, the drug campaign will not solve the problem because it is failing to address the roots of the issue,” he adds.
The declining trust, however, is compensated by a feeling of greater safety compared to last year. In a Pulse Asia survey conducted in March 2017, 82 percent of respondents from Metro Manila indicated that they felt safer because of Duterte’s crackdown on illegal drugs.
On the other hand, Paul* posits that the Filipinos’ strong devotion to the president is one of the main factors why the campaigns still gain support. Likewise, Anna* cites that the reputation and justification of the president, as well as the mere fact that action is being done, both contribute to the continued support.
Impact in the long run
“At the international level, [the] Philippines is [perceived] as a human rights violator. The recent review by the United Nations of the human rights situation in the country prompted the 40 nations involved in the review process to remind the Philippines to respect basic human rights and to not allow the re-imposition of the death penalty,” Cuarteros explains.
“The drug problem will persist; it cannot be solved by killing people especially innocent poor ones. Go after the drug lords. There has been no big drug lord caught and put to jail so far. Being a warlord like Duterte will not eliminate the problem.”
Paul* echoes a similar sentiment, saying, “I think some of the methods that are being implemented such as the creation of more rehabilitation centers by the government should be commended but as a whole I think their campaign still needs some work.”
Jake* (IV, AEF-BSA) suggests that although the drug problem is an issue that needs to be addressed, the methods taken by the government to address it are exaggerated.
“The main problem with the campaign is that the authorities are already giving a judgement to these people without due process. The problem with that is we don’t know if the person killed is part of the problem or an innocent civilian This scenario might lead to people losing their trust to the police or to the government,” he explains.
Anna* believes that while the government is passionate on “cleansing” the country of illegal drugs, some of the methods being employed are admirable while some are questionable. She proposes that there are better ways of addressing the issue based on some of the programs administered abroad, but she believes that it is the Filipinos’ mindset and lack of budget that serve as hindrances and obstacles towards the implementation of such potentially beneficial programs.
“Plus, in my opinion, no one has the right to determine a person’s value and deciding who can have a second chance in life,” she concludes.
*Names were changed for anonymity