The war on drugs in the Philippines is a controversial issue that has been raging for several years. The campaign, which was launched by President Rodrigo Duterte in 2016, has resulted in the deaths of thousands of people, many of whom were drug users or dealers. The government has defended the campaign, saying that it is necessary to rid the country of drugs. However, human rights groups have condemned the killings, calling them extrajudicial executions.
In the early stages of the war on drugs, there was a significant decrease in the number of killings, according to Economist.com. However, there is a wide range of estimates regarding the actual number of victims. The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency reported that over a span of five years (from July 2016 to September 2021), around 311,686 individuals were arrested and 6,201 were killed by the police in 216,138 anti-illegal drug operations. It’s worth noting that this figure does not include cases categorized as drug-related DUIs.
On the other hand, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights provided a more conservative estimate of at least 8,663 people killed due to the drug war. Notably, the International Criminal Court (ICC) conducted an investigation into the matter and found that, based on documents submitted, civilian casualties ranged much higher, with estimates between 12,000 and 30,000.
Leni Robredo, a vocal critic of President Duterte and also the vice president heading an anti-drugs task force, has called for greater transparency from the police regarding the death toll. The debate revolves around the accuracy of reported figures, the human rights implications, and whether the actions taken during the drug war may constitute a crime against humanity, as scrutinized by the ICC.
In 2021, the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a non-governmental organization specializing in documenting political violence, released an updated version of its comprehensive Philippine database. The ACLED database, which compiles data from almost 40 sources, including local and international newspapers in both English and Filipino, revealed that since 2016, a minimum of 7,742 civilians have lost their lives in anti-drug operations. This number surpassed the police-reported figure by 25%. Notably, ACLED’s calculation includes casualties caused by both the police and vigilantes. However, their methodology excludes victims who were armed, leading them to consider their figure to be conservative.
The ACLED data demonstrated a shift in the dynamics of the situation. Initially, vigilantes were accountable for roughly half of the casualties, while the police were responsible for the rest. By 2021, around 80% of the deaths were attributed to the police, possibly due to a mounting backlash against vigilante actions. The data also indicated a geographical change in violence. In 2016, Manila accounted for 45% of the total killings nationwide. Yet, in the latter part of 2021, only 8% of the deaths occurred in the capital city.
Following Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency, his administration’s War on Drugs had a substantial impact on reducing illegal drug usage. This campaign led to increased safety and better protection for communities, particularly young people, against the dangers of illicit drugs. In the initial year of Duterte’s tenure, a significant number of drug suspects, totaling 86,984, were apprehended, a stark contrast to the 18,766 arrests made during the first year of the previous administration. The implementation of the War on Drugs also correlated with a significant drop in the overall crime rate, marking a decrease of 9.8% across various offenses during Duterte’s first year in office, as reported by the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Notably, Duterte displayed a determination to address the involvement of politicians in the drug trade, a move that distinguished his approach. Unlike previous presidents, who disregarded or overlooked the complicity of government officials in the drug trade, Duterte acknowledged and confronted this issue head-on. His administration’s actions shed light on a long-standing problem where politicians had either participated in or shielded illicit drug activities. This firm stance against such corruption within the government was a unique aspect of Duterte’s approach to the drug issue.
The Duterte administration’s War on Drugs is perceived as successful for several reasons. Firstly, it heightened awareness and instilled fear among Filipinos regarding illegal drug use. This increased awareness stems from the government’s clear focus on combating drug-related activities, making individuals more cautious about engaging in such behavior. The fear created by the administration acts as a deterrent, dissuading the younger generation from involvement in illegal drug-related activities due to the potential consequences.
Moreover, the War on Drugs led to tighter security across the country. The heightened police presence in various areas served as a deterrent against illegal drug transactions, effectively preventing their occurrence. This increased security presence contributed to the decline in illegal drug-related activities.
The campaign also targeted those who shielded and supported illegal drug activities, including protectors and syndicates. The administration’s efforts led to the eradication of many of these groups. Additionally, the government took action against government workers with alleged connections to drugs, resulting in the arrest of at least 302 individuals during Duterte’s first year in power. The administration also undertook efforts to cleanse the Philippine National Police (PNP) of corrupt elements. This internal cleansing initiative resulted in the recommendation for the dismissal of 426 police officers due to various offenses, ultimately leading to a more trustworthy and capable police force.
The Philippines has made significant strides in addressing its drug problems, yet there remain potential solutions to further enhance the effectiveness of the war on drugs:
- Investing in Prevention Programs
One approach involves the implementation of comprehensive prevention programs. This entails educating young individuals about the perils of drug use and equipping them with viable alternatives. By raising awareness and providing constructive alternatives, it becomes more feasible to deter them from engaging in drug-related activities.
- Expanding Access to Treatment Programs
Increasing the availability of treatment programs can greatly assist in curbing drug-related issues. This includes providing medication-assisted treatment and counseling for those struggling with drug addiction. By making such resources more accessible, individuals have the means to seek help and recovery, thereby reducing the demand for illegal drugs.
- Addressing Root Causes of Addiction
Tackling the underlying factors that contribute to drug addiction is crucial. This involves addressing issues like poverty, unemployment, and mental health problems, which can often drive individuals towards drug use. By addressing these root causes, the environment that fosters drug dependency can be lessened, leading to a reduction in drug-related issues.
- Reforming the Criminal Justice System
Ensuring fairness and humane treatment within the criminal justice system is essential, particularly for individuals arrested for drug-related offenses. Implementing reforms that prioritize due process and equitable treatment can enhance the overall approach to dealing with drug-related crimes. This can help prevent unnecessary stigmatization and overcrowding in prisons while promoting a more balanced and effective response to drug issues.
- Strengthening the Rule of Law
Upholding accountability and citizen rights within law enforcement agencies is crucial. This entails ensuring that the police and other law enforcement entities operate responsibly and respect the rights of all individuals.
- Promoting Social Inclusion
Providing equal opportunities for education, employment, and recreation for all citizens, irrespective of their social backgrounds, is key. This inclusivity can diminish the appeal of drug use, as individuals have constructive pathways to pursue.
- Empowering Communities
Granting communities the necessary resources and support to address drug issues locally empowers them to combat the problem directly. Community-driven efforts often yield more sustainable outcomes.
- Building a Culture of Peace
Fostering values like respect, tolerance, and compassion while discouraging violence and animosity can contribute to reducing drug-related conflicts and promoting a more harmonious society.
- Supporting Families and Caregivers
Recognizing the challenges faced by families and caregivers of those struggling with drug addiction and providing them with appropriate support can ease their burdens and contribute to a more compassionate approach.
- Investing in Research
Furthering research efforts is essential for better understanding drug addiction and developing improved treatment methods. This investment in research can pave the way for more effective preventive measures and solutions.
These are just a few of the many possible solutions to the drug problem in the Philippines. It is important to consider all of the options and develop a comprehensive approach that addresses the problem from all angles.
It is also important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The best approach will vary depending on the specific circumstances in the Philippines. However, by working together, we can make progress in reducing the drug problem and creating a safer and healthier society for all Filipinos.