Responding to Duterte: are economic sanctions appropriate?

The NYT is becoming increasingly vocal in its opposition to Duterte’s ongoing war on drugs/the poor:, citing moves in Europe to impose economic sanctions:

Outraged by Mr. Duterte’s behavior, as well as his government’s possible reinstatement of the death penalty and lowering the age for criminal prosecution to 9, the E.U. has proposed hitting his government where it may hurt the most — by imposing tariffs on Philippine goods. Other democratic trading partners should do the same.

Although I also support the use of sanctions, this comes with several reservations, given their controversial history and mixed results, which can often make the situation worse.

My thoughts are still developing on what would be appropriate, but let me say briefly in response to concerns that may arise:

  1. What is the end goal?

The end goal (in my mind), would be to stop the human rights abuses (particularly the current policy of state sanctioned killings in the “war on drugs”

2. How does it benefit the people living in that country on which the sanctions are imposed?

No-one benefits, in the short-term. The hope would be that if the human rights abuses would stop, it would help international confidence in the Philippines recover (boosting trade, investment, growth, jobs, etc), and therefore improve the long-term prosperity of the nation.

3. What are the ramifications of this action to a poverty stricken country if Duterte stands his ground?

The ramifications, are potentially very bad, of course.

4. Do economic sanctions do more bad than good?

Sanctions have a mixed record, and yes, can (and often) do significant harm.

What I am personally pushing for, is a clear message to the Philippines that these human rights abuses are not OK, and they do carry consequences.

I would support mild sanctions that are symbolic of our opposition, but avoid any significant economic costs.

The Europeans almost have no choice in their situation. The Philippines is part of a special economic program (GSP+) created by the EU, that gives the participating nations special trade benefits IF they pursue specific policies that promote human rights, labour rights, environmental protection, and good governance. Because of what’s happening, the Philippines is breaching the requirements of the program — and therefore no longer qualifies for its benefits.

Europe is not proposing broad sanctions at this stage — it is merely proposing removing the Philippines from this specific program due to its violations — if they didn’t — it undermines the whole purpose of the program.

In conjunction to mild sanctions, I would also support the use of rewards if the Philippines were to change its course and approach (e.g. — fund drug rehab centres, trade privileges etc).

Although Duterte appears to be stubborn, proper international pressure can achieve some success. The death of one South Korean businessesman, and the pressure from that country — including the mere threat of economic consequences — did result in some tangible (if modest) changes.

At the moment, many democratic nations which claim to advocate for human rights are silent, and if the alternative end game is 72,000 deaths by the end of duterte’s 6 year term — well that is unacceptable.

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