By Editor Riya Mehta

It is no secret that America has seen devastating effects of the War On Drugs on our prison pipelines and mass incarceration rates. Yet, the criminalization of drug sales and use is not a uniquely American phenomenon. Many countries around the world have drug policies that display a similar deleterious impact. The Philippines, for example, has continued a gruesome War On Drugs, resulting in deterioration of human rights. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has executed his own version of the “War On Drugs” which has manifested into a campaign more oppressive than one could imagine. Duterte himself has characterized it as “relentless and chilling.” Demonizing communities of drug users, the president has placed the war against drugs as a centerpiece for his domestic policy. 

In the period of time from Duterte’s first day in office in June of 2016 to June of 2018, more than 4,500 people have been killed in operations by the Philippine National Police (PNP) targeting drug users in raids. Human Rights Watch found that often during these operations the PNP was planting evidence on the bodies of victims as justification for the mass terror. Senator Leila de Lima attempted to lead a senate inquiry into the PNP killings and, in seeming vindication, he has been detained for over a year, limiting the scope of opposition against this brutal campaign. Along with these recorded killings in the PNP raids, are thousands of undocumented killings carried out by private militia groups. This reveals more of a more systematic issue within Duterte’s regime, with police withholding records of these anti-drug operations. This theme of lack of accountability extends to the international stage as well, with the International Criminal Court (ICC) examinations into Duterte’s War On Drugs being essentially neglected by the Philippine regime.

In terms of pragmatic results, Duterte’s War On Drugs has disproportionately harmed marginalized and vulnerable urban communities, while having little to no effect on the system of drug cartels and kingpins in place in the nation. Families in poor neighborhoods are being ripped apart. The most common victim of these extrajudicial killings are the males–often the breadwinners of families in urban populaces. This has had a devastating ripple effect on the women and children in these regions of the Philippines. Kristina Gaerlan, a feminist opposing Duterte’s drug policies, points out that the burden of raising families is now solely placed on the women. She tells the poignant story of Grace, who is the only person providing for her family of three children, 10 grandchildren, and her ailing husband. “‘Yung mga nanay, they barely have the time or the energy to address this,” she says.

While Duterte’s campaign seems like a dark perspective on a complicated situation, the pursuit of justice for these vulnerable victims is well on the way. Earlier this year, European states backed a UN investigation into the human rights abuses under the umbrella of the drug raid killings by the PNP- notably the first time the UN human rights council has looked into the issue. While on an international and cooperative scale, keeping the transparency of these egregious violations must be kept in the sphere of discussion. Asian nations allied with the Philippines will be more hesitant to oppose Duterte, yet international leaders continuing to encourage accountability for the Philippines will be key to a brighter future.