I am to the Philippine drug situation what an audience member is to a feature film displayed on a cinema screen. I watch everything unfold before my eyes, yet I do not play a part in the show before me. I am not a dealer of illegal drugs, a user of illegal drugs, nor a member of any government organization ordered to eradicate illegal drug use in the country. I am not directly involved with anyone of the sort. I am but a bystander, and whether that’s something to be thankful for or feel guilty about, I have been given the safe role. This leaves me with two options: remain silent, idle, and perhaps vastly uninformed, or take the opportunity to educate myself on present-day societal issues and let my voice be heard on the matter. That being said, I strongly believe that President Rodrigo Duterte has taken the necessary bold steps towards the termination of usage of illicit drugs. However, his poor execution has left room for misinterpretation of instruction, apathetic use of executive power, and arguably, violation of some of the most basic human rights.
It has been seven months since the inauguration speech of the recently elected president, and the number of bodies to be put into coffins has only increased as time goes on. Roughly seven thousand people have lost their lives in legitimate police operations or unexplained killings. This bloody conflict between those suspected for illegal drug activity and the violence resulting from the government’s radical measures is known around the world as the Philippine Drug War. An official estimate was made back in 2012 by the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) approximating that there are 1.6 million people within the ages 10 and 69 that make use of unlawful substances. If the country’s leader is to get his wish, he will have to effectively wipe out two to four percent of the Philippine population. Although Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, Director General of the Philippine National Police (PNP), has stated in an interview with CNN that he does not believe that it is possible to have a society completely free from abuse, the President’s “cleansing” operations still continue.
I think that President Rodrigo Duterte had the right idea when it comes to the issue of illegal drugs (e.g. inspiring fear), but he was too reckless with his orders. By urging citizens to get rid of suspected criminals and drug addicts, and ordering the police to shoot upon sight, it’s almost as if he has carelessly handed every person in the nation a license to kill. Simply finding evidence— ambiguous as to whether it’s real or forged— and saying “he’s a drug dealer” or “he’s a drug addict” has become justifiable grounds to pull the trigger of a gun while pointing it at someone’s head. There is no court hearing (save for special cases), and there is no such thing as a full investigation to confirm the phrase “innocent until proven guilty.” Either you’re a suspect or you’re not. Either you’re dead or alive.
I am not discrediting the President for what of the “drug empire” he has been able to abolish. It’s just that sanctions of such extremity must have gone amiss somewhere, given the absence of due process. Half of the killings that have taken place during the term of the sixteenth President of the Philippine Republic have been left without explanation. It’s heartbreaking to think about the number of families that have lost innocent loved ones for reasons that will never become known to them. You cannot help but wonder if the man that promises a better future for the people actually cares about said people, when there are deaths left and right. It would seem as though he is willing to do whatever it takes to transform the Philippines into a country where not a gram of illegal substance can be found, even if it means losing the lives of some clean-handed civilians in the process. Whether this mindset is brilliantly understanding or coldheartedly negligent without a drop of integrity has been up to the people (critics especially) to decide.
But, if you were to ask me, I would tell you the latter. The line was crossed a very, very long time ago.