THE SCENES, like a broken record that keeps on playing the same thing, have become too common everywhere in the Philippines as the deadly war on drugs continues to rage in the largely Catholic nation for over a year now.
On prime-time national television, viewers have become too familiar seeing a bullet-riddled drug suspect lying in a pool of blood, a gun beside the lifeless body. Police would claim the suspect fired a gun to resist arrest, so they were forced to fire back to protect themselves.
Sachets of shabu (methamphetamine hydrochloride), drug paraphernalia and marked money used in the drug buy-bust are then zoomed in.
If that was not the scene, a masked gunman would shoot dead the drug suspect. The killer would then casually walk to a waiting companion and escape on a motorcycle. The perpetrators in the vigilante-style killings are rarely caught.
Unlike in the early days when President Rodrigo Duterte ordered an all-out war against illegal drugs, there are now few dead bodies dumped in grassy lots wrapped in duct tape and with rope-tied hands. It is rarer to see a cardboard sign hanging around the neck of victims with the words: “Drug pusher ako, wag tularan” (I’m a drug pusher, don’t emulate me).
Nowadays, drug suspects are mostly killed during government operations and by unidentified assassins who brazenly barge into the homes of their targets.
On Wednesday, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said 32 drug suspects were killed and 109 arrested in Bulacan from the police’s anti-drug operations conducted in a span of 24 hours between Aug 15 and 16.
It was the single deadliest day in the Duterte administration’s war on drugs to date. Authorities claimed all those killed resisted arrest. Grenades, illegal drugs, firearms and ammunitions were recovered from “simultaneous one-time, big-time operation” by the Bulacan police, the police statement said.
By all indications, the deadly war on drugs is here to stay, with the Mindanao strongman taking the chance to discuss the drug menace and warning to kill those involved in the illegal drug trade in almost all his public appearances.
Duterte’s rise to power on June 30, 2016 was fuelled by his tough stance against criminality and the drug menace, among other popular campaign pledges. As mayor of Davao City for over two decades before occupying Malacanang, he tried but failed to eliminate the drug trade in three to six months, as he promised during the campaign trail.
During the “Philippine Development Forum: Sulong Pilipinas 2017” on Aug 9 in Manila, Duterte admitted before economic and trade leaders the difficulty of eliminating the narcotics trade he stressed, time and again, deeply existed in the country with the protection of crooked politicians and law enforcers.
Even superpowers like the United States is besieged by illegal drug problem, the firebrand leader said, stressing the drug menace may not be eradicated under his six-year term.
“Look, this shabu and illegal drugs cannot be solved by one man, for a president, for one term. It has bogged nations. How can we stop it if even America can’t? America is under siege because of drugs. And they are far worse than us. Yes, of course, they do not admit it until now, they’re fighting a useless war there that never ends,” Duterte said.
Just recently, a drug controversy exploded in the Philippines, reflecting the complexity and breadth of the illegal drugs problem in the country. The incident, currently being investigated by Congress, involved a huge shabu shipment from China worth PHP6.4 billion (US$125 million). The shipment passed the customs bureau and found its way to a private warehouse.
Between July 1, 2016 and July 26, 2017, the government confiscated 2,455.80kg of shabu with an estimated street value of PHP12.66 billion (US$248 million), data from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) showed.
For the same period, the agency reported 3,451 drug users and dealers died during anti-drug operations. Human rights groups, however, peg the death toll at at least 7,000.
Besides the church-based and local human rights groups, among those that condemned the drug-related killings in the Philippines were the European Union, the New York-based Human Rights Watch and UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings Agnes Callamard, who rejected Duterte’s challenge for a public debate.
“President Duterte took office promising to protect human rights, but has instead spent his first year in office as a boisterous instigator for an unlawful killing campaign,” HRW deputy director for Asia Phelim Kine said in a recent statement.
“Duterte has supported and incited ‘drug war’ killings while retaliating against those fearless enough to challenge his assault on human rights.” – Phelim Kine
However, Duterte appeared unfazed by the condemnation and calls for him to stop his government’s bloody war on drugs, saying he needs to fight the “narco-politics that’s now deeply-rooted in the country to save the future of the young generation.”
In many public occasions and press conferences, Duterte has waved a thick folder he said contained names of over 1,000 personalities, including politicians and law enforcers, suspected of drug links.
— PhilippineEmbassy DC (@philippinesusa) August 14, 2017
Since Duterte launched the drug war after assuming the presidency, PDEA data showed 327 government workers had been arrested as of July 26, 2017 – 159 of whom are government employees, 142 elected officials and 26 uniformed or law enforcement personnel.
At least three of the mayors the president implicated in the drug trade have been killed in the government’s bloody narcotics crackdown.
The latest was Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog of Ozamiz City in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, who was killed along with 14 others, including his wife and other family members, at a pre-dawn raid in their hometown a few weeks ago.
The Parojinog family is said to be behind the notorious Kuratong Baleleng gang, which has been implicated in various criminal activities, including bank robberies, across the country.
Showing no remorse, Duterte hailed the police officers who conducted the anti-drug raid against the Parojinogs.
“The police and the military should make sure their enemies are dead. Otherwise, if the other guy can still pull the trigger, you will end up with a dead police or a dead military soldier,” the Inquirer quoted him as saying days after the bloody raid.
Duterte has publicly defended the law enforcers behind the deadly anti-drug operations as he noted the government also lost operatives. In the 68,214 narcotics operations from July 1, 2016 to July 26, in total 68 law enforcers were killed and 184 others were wounded, PDEA data showed.
During the period, 96,703 drug personalities were reportedly arrested and at least 1.3 million surrendered for profiling. Law enforcers also claimed to have dismantled 154 drug dens and nine clandestine drug laboratories.
Most Filipinos continue to support Duterte’s war on drugs, according to a March 2017 survey by polling firm Social Weather Stations (SWS). In a survey held from March 25 to 28, 78 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with the war on drugs (43 percent very satisfied, 35 percent somewhat satisfied).
On the other hand, 12 percent said they were unsatisfied (six percent somewhat dissatisfied, six percent very dissatisfied). “This gives a net satisfaction rating of +66, classified by SWS as very good,” the polling firm said.
Undoubtedly, the Duterte administration is now seriously addressing the illegal drugs problem in the country.
But while licking it may last beyond Duterte’s tenure, blood will apparently continue to bathe the archipelago with a president now more than ever inclined to stop the drug menace – no matter the cost.