The Philippines’ New Strongman President Is Inspiring Summary Executions — And Threatening China
400 die as Rodrigo Duterte’s rhetoric escalates
by JOANNE LU
The Philippines’ new president Rodrigo Duterte doesn’t need official policy to incite a deadly war on drugs.
This “kill list” is proof. Since May 9, 2016, when “Rody” won 39 percent of the national vote, more than 400 suspected drug users and dealers have died at the hands of police and citizens inspired by their new leader’s provocative rhetoric.
But recent talk suggests Duterte may be ready to scale up, as he points to the “big fish” across the sea.
“Where will I get the big fish? … [Critics] keep asking why only the small fish are being arrested,” Duterte said during a July 22 visit to a biomass power plant, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported. “Hey, I have to invade a country to arrest the drug lords. I will not name the country, but obviously, it is known to you.”
That country is, of course, China, whose cartels are largely behind The Philippines’ trade in “shabu” — methamphetamine mixed with caffeine. Shabu and marijuana are the nation’s two most popular and valuable illegal drugs, and according to a 2012 U.N. drug report, The Philippines has the highest rate of shabu abuse in East Asia.
This is not the first time Duterte has blamed China. Earlier this month, he called out three major traffickers of Chinese ethnicity by name, vowing repeatedly that they “will die” if the two in prison ever attempted escape or the third set foot on the islands again.
“One day I will ask China, ‘Why is the situation like this?’” Duterte intoned in a a video released in mid-July. “I won’t say, ‘Why are you sending them, but why is it that most of the guys who come here do drugs, even inside jail?’”
Yet despite the two nations’ ongoing territorial dispute over the South China Sea — ongoing, since China refuses to recognize the ruling handed down by the Hague tribunal — China has expressed support for Duterte’s controversial drug war.
“The Chinese government has been firm and severe in drug control and in punishing all drug criminals in accordance with laws regardless their nationalities.’’ said Lingxiao Li, spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Manila, in what seems to be a response to Duterte’s video.
“China has expressed explicitly to the new administration China’s willingness for effective cooperation in this regard, and would like to work out a specific plan of action with the Philippine side.”
Could this signal the evolution of a transnational drug trade into a transnational drug war? What has so far been a grassroots campaign of sorts — of extrajudicial killings by police in “self-defense” or by vigilantes — with verbal backing from the president, could soon become enshrined in national policy.
Meanwhile, members of the Philippine congress who are concerned with the daily mounting death toll are doing their best to scale down the president’s war through human-centric solutions such as rehabilitation.
Rep. Rodel Batocabe is one such legislator. He’s behind a proposed bill to set up state-funded rehabilitation facilities — paid for by tobacco and alcohol taxes — in every state.
“If we could see them as human beings actually, we see drug addicts have human rights — the right to be rehabilitated, because their only option is to just eventually be arrested again or [get] killed,” Batocabe said. “Those are the only options for a poor drug addict.”
Congress is expected to deliberate on Batocabe’s bill in September. But September may not be soon enough if lawmakers actually hope to slow Duterte’s kill streak.
Because if a meager 25 days in office has shown us anything, it’s that President Rody has no problem escalating his war on drugs — even if that means bringing China into the mix.