FEARING arbitrary arrests and possible violence at the hands of the Philippines’ often overzealous men in blue, many from impoverished communities in the Southeast Asian country have stopped going to the police to report crimes, according to Vice-President Leni Robredo.
In a video addressed to the United Nations, Robredo described this as one of many disheartening consequences of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, apart from the thousands already killed.
Criticising the brutal methods used in Duterte’s drug purge, she described a situation where police are entering homes in low-income communities without warrants, rounding up large groups of people in public spaces like basketball courts, and incriminating people based on the arbitrary fact of whether they have tattoos.
“Some of those have told us normally when there is crime, they go to police. Now they don’t know where to turn to,” she said.
Robredo also described a “change heads” scheme where the wife, husband or relatives of a drug suspect will be arrested by police if the alleged criminal is not present.
“Our people feel both hopeless and helpless.”
Citing more than 7,000 people have been killed in summary executions as part of the president’s crackdown on drug dealers since last July, Robredo said “we agree our people deserve nothing less than a safe environment.”
Duterte previously stated millions of Filipinos were “slaves” to drugs and that he would be happy to “slaughter” three million drug addicts like Hitler killed Jews.
Some 2,500 people have been killed in operations during which policemen claim they fired in self-defence.
Robredo continued the issue of drugs was bound up with poverty and social inequality, meaning “one that cannot be solved with bullets alone.”
“It must be regarded as it truly is – a complex public health issue,” she said.
She said her office supports rehabilitation and education of drug-dependent Filipinos to reintegrate them as productive members of society. Given some people claim to have been beaten by police when asking for search warrants, she said “we must all demand greater transparency on the war on drugs.”
Duterte removed Robredo from Cabinet last December after she began criticising the drug war. She said in the video “democracy demands dissent.”
Senator Leila de Lima, another outspoken critic of Duterte’s bloody methods, was arrested on drug charges earlier this month.
Eleven other Philippine legislators who voted against a Bill to re-introduce capital punishment lost key posts in the country’s Congress on Wednesday.
Duterte apologised several days ago to Robredo for ignoring “this beautiful lady” during a speech at the Philippine Military Academy and has previously commented on the length of her skirt.
“To know the international community’s eyes are on us and to feel human rights advocates are watching over our country give us comfort, courage, and hope,” Robredo said.
The video will be shown today at the annual meeting of the UN Commission on Drugs in Geneva.