Philippine President Duterte must stop war on drugs

FILE: President Rodrigo Duterte presents a chart illustrating a drug trade network of high level drug syndicates in the Philippines during a press conference, July 7, 2016

In his first 100-days in office, President Rodrigo Duterte has managed to put the Philippines back in a bad light due to his aggressive and hostile approach to politics. But this hasn’t surprised anyone because his unusual charisma, which was on full display during the election season, was the reason why people elected him. More than 16-million Filipino people were drawn to him and his political promises. His politics aren’t new to many as well. President Duterte operated the same way when he was the mayor of Davao City. He was criticized then, and it continues today. But, it hasn’t deterred President Duterte to pursue his policies. And it looks like he’s unlikely to crack from calls to stop his one of his biggest policies — his war on drugs

The Philippines has a long history of drug problems. But, no Philippine president has made it their top priority as President Duterte has. However, the increasing number of dead people every day has unnerved the Filipino public. Let’s look at the numbers. Since July 1, the day after he was sworn in as the Philippines’ new president, till October 26, more than 4,726 people have been killed in his war on drugs, according to the Philippine National Police. Let that number sink in for a moment. President Duterte, who earned the moniker “The Punisher” for operating above the law, isn’t dissuaded by the growing number of dead people.

This has to stop.

The increasing number of victims will continue to rise as long as President Duterte encourages authorities to kill criminals who don’t cooperate, and vigilantes to take the law into their hands. Out of the 4,726, more than 3001 have been murdered because of vigilantes. In solving the drug problem through extreme measures, President Duterte is creating another one by letting vigilantes operate outside the law. President Duterte must act now. Here are the other reasons why President Duterte has to stop his war on drugs:

Numbers show a different story. In his State of the Nation speech, President Duterte justified his war on drugs by claiming that more than three-million Filipinos were using drugs two years ago and that the number might have increased to 3.7 million now. He cited the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency as his source. However, according to official data, in 2012, the Dangerous Drug Board (DDB) estimates that 1.3 million Filipinos are using drugs, a lower drug use-rate compared to 2008 where 1.7 million were reported to use drugs. If we go back to 2004, the DDB reported that there 6.7 million people were using drugs. The numbers suggest that drug use in the country is actually going down, putting Duterte’s policy into question. If drug use is down and previous administrations didn’t go on killing sprees to achieve this, then Duterte must look at the non-aggressive approach to solving the problem.

He lies to justify his means. President Duterte lies to the Filipino people to justify his actions as shown by how his statistics differ to the official numbers. In a speech last week, Duterte claimed that two police officers were dying every day in his battle against drugs. First, if this was true, then why not stop the violence and look at the more peaceful resolution. Second, it’s a lie. There are contradicting numbers about police death, but both statistics show that Duterte’s claim is false. Police statistics acquired by Reuters show that from July 1 till Oct. 12, there have been 13 police officers killed, which amounts to one in every eight days. President Duterte is using incorrect and misleading numbers to justify his war on drugs.

Human rights matter. In an interview with Al Jazeera last week, President Duterte called innocent civilians including children getting killed in his war on drugs “collateral damage.” This is kind of sentiment is disturbing and sickening. The way he dismisses the innocent lives lost in his violent and seemingly unreasonable war on drugs is not what you would expect from a sitting president. Unfortunately, that kind of statement is not startling anymore — President Duterte has said in the past that he doesn’t care about human rights. These are the same human rights that are part of the Constitution on which he solemnly promised to abide and protect no matter what. Human rights trump anything. President Duterte must recant his statements regarding human rights and end this violence once and for all. Human rights are fundamental for a society to work peacefully. It is frightening to hear that kind of statement from a world leader who governs 100-million people.

Allies and investors are calling for an end. Numerous human rights organizations and world leaders have called for the end of the war on drugs. But instead of talking to his fellow world leaders, President Duterte, to no one’s surprise, took his usual route. He insulted them, using colorful offensive language. President Duterte used the “F” word twice in response to the European Union, called President Barack Obama and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon “a son of a b****”, and labeled the United Nations as stupid and useless. Last week, the International Criminal Court gave President Duterte warning on the increasing extrajudicial killings in the country. President Duterte should listen to his compatriots and human rights organizations to stop the ongoing violence. Also, if this continues, investors will continue to avoid the Philippines, harming the country’s robust economy. Credit rating agency S&P has threatened to downgrade the country’s credit rating if President Duterte continues to undermine the rule of law.

With all these reasons, there is no denying that President Duterte’s war on drugs is harming the country more than it is helping. The fear-mongering policy might produce positive results, but it will leave a path of destruction in its wake. And by then, it’ll be too late to turn around. He must find a more peaceful and lawful approach to eliminate the drug problem in the Philippines.

Peter Parker once said in Spiderman, with power comes with great responsibility. It is time for President Duterte to be responsible and end this senseless violence.