President Rodrigo Duterte is known as “The Punisher” or “Dirty Harry of Davao” for strict, controversial laws and his intense crackdown on drugs.
In the two months he has been in power, Duterte is a clear example of a walk-the-talk politician and his iron leadership has been met with criticism from the west. To the western world, his actions have been seen as extreme violence and not in compliance with basic human rights. But for the majority of the Filipino population, and the many migrants that have moved from the Philippines to Australia, Duterte’s crackdown is rejoiced as the first step towards some good.
For the west to clearly understand the approval for the movement and the harsh actions taken by Duterte, one only has to look at the past 30-40 years of Filipino history of corrupt governments and drug related violence to empathise with the pain the Filipino people have gone through.
The first of many corrupt oligarch parliament members included President Ferdinand Marcos who, during the ’70s and ’80s, had allowed martial law, suspended parliament and declared himself the winner during the 1986 presidential election. This was the beginning of a long cycle of oligarch families being in power, actors being elected for president, and the Filipino population being kept in the dark with their government and the ongoing corruption behind closed doors.
The Filipino people are victims of pork barrel funding where public funds intended only for public purposes have become the focus of wholesale corruption in government agencies. Independent groups have spoken out against the practice, posting videos on YouTube:
Due to the lack of education and control over media, government members take advantage of the poverty ridden population and are continuously voted into parliament.
Twenty-six-year-old Jenna Dy has been living and studying in Australia since 2011, and has been a witness to one of the biggest problems for the Philippines. “It [corruption] is too widespread to the point that sometimes Filipinos tend to just turn a blind eye on it,” she explained. “Most corruption cases are also either dismissed or not followed up at all.”
As well as the faults in the government, the endemic illegal drug trade became a serious national concern. In 2012, the UN stated the Philippines had the highest rate of methamphetamine use in East Asia, and according to a U.S State Department report, 2.1 per cent of Filipinos aged 16 to 64 use the drug, locally known as “shabu”.
In his 2016 State of the Nation speech Mr Duterte predicted that the country was on the brink of becoming a ‘narco-state’:
But, despite the prolonged need and hope for change and peace within the Philippines, as stated in his electoral campaign, does his harsh stance on his nation actually reap a positive benefit?
The UN and US have swiftly stepped in and expressed serious concern over Duterte’s behaviour and power while in his service. Duterte’s relentless campaign against illegal drugs, has led to a rise in extrajudicial murders of citizens who are involved in illegal drugs, over the past three months. He “won’t stop until the last drug pusher is punished,” Duterte stressed in his first address.
While neither supporting nor condemning extra-judicial killings of suspected drug pedlars, bounties have been placed on high ranked drug lords and their ring members. “There will be no let-up in this campaign. Double your efforts. Triple them, if need be. We will not stop until the last drug lord, the last financier and the last pusher have surrendered or put behind bars or below the ground if they so wish,” Duterte said. As well as murders, there have been a number of drug-related arrests involving a number of government officials and police force members which Duterte has publicly slammed by listing their names as being allegedly involved with illegal drugs.
An alternative to extrajudicial killings, the president has made a large push for building rehabilitation camps for drug users. “I have ordered the opening of military camps,” he said in a speech, “give me one hectare in every region. I have to build rehab centres all over the country.” He also urges illegal drug users and dealers to turn themselves into police and the benefit of the extrajudicial killings is the incentive for them to surrender.
As of August 12 there are over 1000 drug related deaths in the Phillipines. Data shows that 60 per cent of the killings were linked to police operations while 31 per cent of killings were committed by unidentified attackers. Nine per cent of the killings had bodies found away from the crime scene with no links. Some of the murders are of extreme violence and bodies are found in disturbing manners, with heads and hands taped up and signs saying “I am a drug dealer” placed near the bodies on the streets.
The US have been urging the Philippines to “ensure its law enforcement efforts comply with its human rights obligations,” State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said at a news briefing in Washington. “We believe in a rule of law… We believe in respect for universal human rights. We believe fundamentally that those aspects insure and promote long term security.”
UN rights experts have also urged Dutertes to stop prompting violence and have called his slamming comments against journalists. During early June, Duterte had made comments that there was justification for killing journalists who took bribes or were caught up in corrupt activities, which could incite more murders of media workers. Christof Heyns, a UN expert on summary executions, has described Duterte as “irresponsible in the extreme, and unbecoming of any leader.”
Although there is a rise in death in the Philippines, it is the Filipino people themselves who are in full support of Duterte’s movement. Brenda Potestas, an entrepreneur who has been living in Australia for over 25 years is glad to see the change in her home country. “I feel like we have finally achieved something and at last someone has done something about it [illegal drug trade],” she explained, “we have had so many presidents for so long but no one has thought about the problems in the country and we have finally found someone who is not afraid.”
Bounties have been made on Duterte’s head by drug lords, which he has said he will match. “If they put up 100 million pesos, I will give you 150 million pesos, slaughter them. I will give you promotion on the spot, from PO1 [Police Officer 1 rank] to General,” the president publicly stated.
“We now have someone who is willing to die for his country,” said Mrs Potestas, “it is a relief for a lot of people.”
“I’m confident that Duterte will do a good job in running the country. I can feel his sincerity that he will do whatever it takes to cleanse the government and the country from its bad history,” Ms Dy also added.
While Rodrigo Duterte’s presidential rule continues, only time will tell if he will make or break the Philippines to be a great country. Many western critics are claiming that his harsh rules will not last and his iron-fist ruling will have a backlash response, but for the many abused and impoverished population of the small archipelago, they look to him for guidance and reform that is considered well overdue. – Zabrina Potestas
Video of President Duterte from Video of ABS-CBN’s YouTube account.