By Tafi Mhaka
The President of the Philippines: Rodrigo Duterte. That is his name. While on a presidential state visit to Singapore last week, Mr Duterte told the media, he had shot and killed three suspected drug dealers in the past, but couldn’t recall how many shots he had fired at them. It is unclear whether Mr. Duterte shot the men or not, as his spokesperson later hastened to characterise the story as simply part of his boss’s braggadocios populist swagger.
Whatever the truth may be, it is clear that Mr. Duterte is setting a fresh benchmark in the strongman political stakes, as it is one thing to talk tough in politics, it is quite another for a leader to blatantly brag about killing people – justifiably or not. If the president has – or purports to have – shot and killed three suspects before a court of law found them guilty of trafficking illegal drugs, won’t Filipino security forces emulate their commander-in-chief and kill people arbitrarily as well?
Yes, they will – and have been doing so, rather ruthlessly of late. The police and vigilantes have gunned down over 6000 suspects, including children and other innocent bystanders, in extrajudicial killings, since June 30, when Mr. Duterte took up office and launched his controversial war on drugs in the Philippines. This is according to a police report cited by Rappler, a Manila-based media outlet. In September, Mr Duterte, said this about the high rate of fatalities in his anti-drug crusade: “Hitler massacred three million Jews… there’s three million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them.”
Leading political actors, such as the United Nations, USA and EU – as well as human rights organisations, have strongly condemned the actions of Philippine security forces, but Mr. Duterte is having none of it, and has threatened to pull the Philippines out of the United Nations, and dared the US and EU to withdraw financial aid to the Philippines amounting to over US$300 million, declaring that the Philippines would get by without their aid or turn to China or Russia for support.
Marijuana and methamphetamine are the major drugs sold and consumed in the Philippines. And the country is a major transit hub for drug cartels shipping illegal drugs to China. The Philippines Dangerous Drugs Board estimates there are 1.8 million drug users in the central Asian state. Add to this undesirable scenario, the usual depravities related to illegal drugs, like violent crime, prostitution, money laundering and police corruption – the seriousness of the drug problem in the Philippines should not be underestimated at all.
But at what cost will the war on drugs be won if Mr. Duterte stays in office until the end of his 6-year tenure in 2022? Mr. Duterte seems prepared to disregard basic human rights laws and sacrifice the sanctity of human life in his mission to rid the Southeast Asian country of its drug scourge.
Thousands of poor and guiltless persons are dying for no defensible reason and constitutional rights are being flouted to satisfy the will of the president of the Philippines. Mr. Duterte has described the extrajudicial killings happening in the war on drugs as “collateral damage” and vowed to not let up on this campaign until his final day in office. The burning issue for the free world is: Should he be allowed to build the foundation of his legacy upon the tombstones of thousands of hapless Filipinos?