Recently, President Rodrigo Duterte grabbed the headlines when he dropped expletives at former Colombian president Cesar Gaviria. Gaviria wrote an opinion piece on New York Times, criticizing Duterte’s heavy-handed stance of getting rid of drug addicts, which he claims is not the solution to the country’s drug menace. Moreover, Gaviria warned Duterte that the famous Philippine President’s war on drug might have the same ending as Colombia’s – a failure. Leaving many of his critics and those cynical towards him asking, is the War on Drugs really the answer?
Duterte’s War on Drugs: Statistics and Implications
In over 7 months, Duterte’s war on drugs led to over 7000 deaths since the start of his term. Almost 4000 of these deaths are the result of allegedly vigilante-style or unexplained killings, the rest comes from suspected drug personalities killed by police. [source] Here is where the disconnect comes in mostly because many have failed to classify these killings incorrectly and have been associated with a single classification called “Extra Judicial Killings” (EJK).
The (1) vigilante-style killings that target alleged drug users and pushers and the death brought about by the (2) anti-drug campaign operation (better known as Oplan Tokhang) have been collectively called “Extra Judicial Killings.” Classifying these two into a single label is for the lack of better words, misleading.
Vigilante Style Killings
This has been an incident that no news outlet is unfamiliar with because the same type of news has been making the headlines even before Duterte took the spotlight. In fact, these incidents are not just isolated to one region of the country but it’s everywhere. Also, there has been no proof that these killings are state sponsored; no one thought of it as such before the time of Duterte. Here’s a brief throwback of some of the exact same killings in the past, the only difference is that that they were called “salvage” instead of the infamous “EJK”:
And according to this news article dated January 17, 2014, by Inquirer:
“Insp. Elmer Monsalve, chief of the QCPD homicide section, said that upon identification, “90 percent” of the victims turned out to have criminal records. He pointed this out when asked if the numbers indicated a rise in vigilantism in the city.”
Killings are killings, but to associate these recent incidents without acknowledging the fact that they’ve existed even before the war on drugs by Duterte came to be, is, to say the least, misleading and ignorant. So, who’s behind the killings? No one really knows, but there’s definitely not enough evidence to link them to Duterte. However, if you’re really keen to get to the bottom of it, here’s an article from a famous Filipino blogger that can give you a good start.
Operation Tokhang (Anti-Drug Campaign)
According to the latest statistics as of December 2016, a total of 1,179,462 individuals have surrendered to the authorities and have pledged to turn their backs on illegal drugs. In a span of 7 months, over a million illegal drugs, users and pushers have come out publicly to come clean. It’s quite a surprise that this didn’t reach the headlines of many news outlets which is a cue that the war on drugs brought good results.
Perhaps the only error in the equation that Duterte didn’t see coming was the fact that there are corrupt cops that also worked for the corrupt generals that he name-shamed at the start of his term as President of the Philippines. And, I must admit, these cops are to be blamed for the execution of some of the alleged drug users and pushers who are caught during their Anti-Drug Campaign operations.
Yes, to be fair, there are those who are killed deliberately by corrupt cops (who also have deep connections with the drug trade) who are out to silence those people that might blow the whistle on them. Some whose motivation is politically driven like the recent killing of a Korean Businessman. On top of that, there are innocent lives that are caught in the crossfire, and basically, there’s no getting around that. Perhaps, the best thing that the head of the police can do is to create a better plan or strategy in executing their campaign against drugs. One which will ensure the safety of the innocent.
Duterte’s War on Drugs: The Bottom-line
Despite the shortcomings of the legit anti-drug campaign by Duterte, just by looking at the figures of those illegal drug users and pushers who surrendered, it’s foolish to say that it has done no good. I mean, 1,170,462 people who are involved in the drug trade willingly gave up to the government. No one else made such thing possible but the current President of the Philippines. For a country plagued by heinous crimes done by people who are influenced by illegal drugs, it sure didn’t take long for Duterte to make those druggies cooperate.
Lower Crime Rate
On a positive note, this war on drugs has led to a staggering decline in crime rate. Many petty criminals are the culprits in most street and heinous crimes in the country. During the last quarter of 2016, a drop of 31.67% is reported by Philippine National Police, making the Philippines safer than it was in the previous administration. [Source] On top of that, the President enjoys a very high approval rating of 83% according to a survey conducted during the last quarter of 2016 by Pulse Asia, which is a clear indicator that many perceived him to be on the right track.
Drugs on the Streets Deteriorating
As the war on drugs continues to push for its advocacy, more and more drug labs are discovered and taken down, and more and more are confiscated. The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency is on its all-time high. [source]
As hellbent as he is in cracking down drugs, Duterte is also as keen in providing rehabilitation to the more than 1 million who surrendered. Though it isn’t such an easy task, he is off to a good start with the Mega Rehabilitation center that he completed last November with the aid of a Chinese businessman. [see here]
Crack Down On Corrupt Police Officials
With the protest against rogue cops running loose in Duterte’s campaign against drugs, it provided an opportunity for the Chief of the Police to do some cleansing within the ranks of their official. It’s a good thing because, for the first time in the history of the Philippines, corrupt cops are finally unmasked and finally had their asses handed to them. [source]
Is the War on Drugs the Answer?
Basing on the statistics and the results that show today, it’s a miscalculated judgment to say that it has done and will do no good. To date, 1,179,462 have already surrendered and are still alive and well. Even if we lump together the deaths during police operations and those that are caused by unknown assailants, they would just account for a total of 0.06 percent. 99.4% are alive and well. I’m not saying the deaths should be disregarded, but the result speaks magnitude of how efficient it is in achieving its end goal. The main difference between Colombia’s War on Drugs and the Philippine’s is that the former didn’t have the enormous cooperation that Duterte’s initiative earned from his people. So, who’s to say that it isn’t good for the people? Most likely, not someone who doesn’t have an idea about the current situation of the country.
Duterte’s war on drugs sure isn’t perfect, but the numbers and results show that it works. Aside from that, the most recent survey echoes the approval of most Filipinos. The people have spoken, for most Filipinos, the Anti-Drug Campaign is part of the solution. It’s not the only answer but it’s a major piece of it.
So, instead of destabilizing his efforts by maliciously magnifying one angle of this campaign, it would be more helpful to advocate a solution that will complement Duterte’s feat to curb drugs on the street, crime, and corruption.