The World’s Deadliest Drug War Just Got a New Leader | The War on Drugs
As Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency in the Philippines is over, we look at what his deadly drug war actually achieved, and whether the new president Bongbong Marcos – the son of the Philippines’ former dictator – will continue the bloodshed.
My poor brother.
There’s nothing else you can do.
If you do drugs in my city
and destroy the youth,
I will kill you.
Since 2016, the world’s deadliest war on drugs
has been raging in the Philippines.
Police say these two men were shot and left for dead
by undercover cops carrying out a drug bust.
This has seen tens of thousands of drug users massacred by death squads
but also lawyers, activists
and even senators who dare to challenge the brutality
brought into the crosshairs.
It looks like one of the suspects is alive.
He’s covered in blood, but he’s obviously still alive.
This war has been instigated by one man:
President Rodrigo Duterte.
He made the violent eradication of drug crime his signature policy.
This campaign will go on until the last day of my term
and until all of them are killed.
Now, as Duterte’s time in office comes to an end,
we look at what his drug war actually achieved
and whether the new president,
the son of the Philippines’ former dictator,
will continue the bloodshed.
[THE WAR ON DRUGS SHOW]
[IS DUTERTE’S DRUG WAR REALLY OVER?]
Rodrigo Duterte launched his political career
as mayor of the city of Davao,
a position he held on and off for 22 years.
President Duterte was mayor of Davao City for many years
before he became president.
It was known as a fairly lawless and rough place,
and he administered rough justice.
Duterte cultivated this tough-guy image,
where he would ride around on motorcycles, go on patrols,
sometimes talk about being involved in extrajudicial killings.
He was elected in 2016
with this central narrative that what he did to Davao City,
cleaning up the streets and ending criminality,
it can be something that can be done in the entire Philippines.
And that’s what he has done for the past six years here.
Geared up to launch his first presidential campaign,
Duterte needed a defining issue
to build his brand as an anti-establishment strongman
who could get things done.
What he found was drugs.
This costs around 300,000 pesos [$6,340].
Later tonight, this will be dispatched.
They can start dealing it right away.
Duterte specifically played on people’s fears around
a form of street methamphetamine known as shabu,
which is popular amongst
the Philippines’ poor working-class communities.
Why do you think shabu is so popular?
Because once you’ve tried it, you’ll like it straight away.
So when you inhale, you’ll have a two, three-hour hit.
And then, right after, you’ll want another one.
There’s no doubt that the Philippines has significant issues with shabu.
But it’s also thought that Duterte deliberately overstated the problem
in order to create the perception of a crisis that only he could solve.
The problem with what Duterte is saying
is that he’s using his estimation to really fuel his narrative
that the entire Philippines is swept by drug suspects
when, in fact, it’s not as bad as he thinks,
as compared to what the government is seeing.
He is exaggerating the problem,
claiming that all of the streets here in the Philippines
are infested with drug users and drug suspects who kill people.
Duterte won the presidency
and declared a total war on drug users and dealers.
And almost immediately, people started dying.
Almost every night, two or more, maybe even up to eight or ten people,
are getting killed.
I see no end to this slaughter.
People who found themselves on these death lists
began getting assassinated
by kill teams with disturbingly regular methods.
The infamous death lists or watch lists
that were created of so-called drug suspects,
once your name turns up on a list,
it’s very difficult to get your name off of it.
These people very often end up dead,
killed by so-called vigilantes or in the process of “arrest.”
And the police reports always say, “Oh, they resisted arrest.
We had to shoot them.”
And of course, the autopsies show completely different things—
that they had handcuff marks, they were behind their backs,
they were shot from the back.
Investigations have claimed that these death squads
are often made up of off-duty cops
or hitmen directly hired by the police
who get paid roughly the equivalent of $100
for every drug user they kill
and up to $300 for every dealer.
Our boss… he’s a cop.
The client hires our boss, then our boss would ask us
to get rid of someone.
we eliminate them.
And this violence was constantly encouraged
and promoted by President Duterte.
I’m not trying to pull my own chair,
but in Davao I used to…
do it personally.
If I can do it, why can’t you?
If you have to shoot,
shoot them dead.
President Duterte has a mouth
that is unlike any other world leader’s mouth.
He spews all kinds of obscenities,
even when he’s talking to the pope or to President Obama.
You must be respectful.
Do not just throw away questions and statements.
Son of a whore, I will swear at you.
He jokes about raping nuns.
He has a mouth that just will not stop.
He was a mayor of Davao City for such a long time.
He’s a local mayor from Mindanao.
He’s not used to international scrutiny at all.
So the first thing that he reacts to is that,
“Oh, who is this president from the United States
who’s criticizing me?”
So he just swears and attacks them.
And this is appealing to a lot of Filipinos because he’s genuine.
Previous presidents would never do that
because they are more diplomatic.
It wasn’t just drug users or pushers who Duterte went after.
He directly threatened the lawyers who defended them
and the activists who dared to fight for their basic human right
not to be murdered in the street.
One UN report indicated that over 250 human rights activists
had been murdered in the Philippines since 2015.
Once you condition your police
and those extrajudicial death squads to kill,
to kill without regret, remorse, and to kill with impunity,
then it’s very easy once you’ve set up that apparatus
to turn it against other targets,
whether they be feminists,
whether they be indigenous rights activists,
And in fact, that’s what he’s done in terms of red-tagging.
Duterte also used the drug war to eliminate his political rivals.
Senator Leila de Lima,
who was leading an investigation into whether he’d organized death squads,
was continually harassed
and eventually arrested on spurious drugs charges.
She remains in prison to this day
and is considered an Amnesty prisoner of conscience.
I’m a lawyer.
I’m an elected official of this country.
Rule of law must prevail.
They’ve been saying that they’re going to destroy me within the year.
So I tell them,
“If I have to go down, I have to go down fighting.”
Despite all this,
Duterte and his war remained broadly popular with Filipinos.
The country had previously been so badly run
that anyone promising law and order, even based on mass murder,
But this support began to fray with the killing of Kian delos Santos.
Kian was 17 when he was shot in the head during a drug bust.
Police said the boy was a drug runner
and that they fired only after he pulled a weapon.
But this security camera footage
appears to show officers dragging the boy into an alley
before his death.
Eyewitnesses claim he begged to go home,
saying he had to get to school for a test the next morning.
Is that the state of our justice system,
wherein only the killed who were documented with a CCTV camera
are afforded justice?
That we have to be lucky here in the Philippines
before our killers can be caught?
And this is one in thousands of cases.
How about the other thousands of cases who were killed?
Official Philippines government figures
put the death toll of the drug war at about 8,000.
But these figures are not considered reliable,
and many studies put the numbers at 25,000 or more.
Why did it happen?
That’s what I can’t get out of my head.
Why did they do that?
We are just scavengers. We live off the garbage.
We’re not bad people.
Ninety-nine percent of the victims of the anti-drug war are the poor.
Five years on since the drug war was actually started,
these bodies have been exhumed.
And one of the people who examined these bodies said,
“These people are actually from the poor.
You only have to look at their teeth.”
This leads to a crucial question:
Has any of this bloodshed actually reduced problematic drug use
in the Philippines?
The answer is unclear,
as official data can’t be trusted.
But it seems highly unlikely.
Even former police chiefs now claim the war has failed.
And in 2020, Duterte’s own vice president
admitted that despite all the violence,
less than 1 percent of the shabu
and the money involved in illegal drugs
had actually been seized.
So now that Duterte is stepping down,
is there any hope that the Philippines may move towards
a less murderous, more effective way of treating drug users?
Unfortunately, probably not.
The new president is Ferdinand Marcos Jr.,
the son of the Philippines’ former dictator
and a strong Duterte ally.
His vice president is Duterte’s own daughter.
This new president, I’m not sure how he sees human lives.
Hopefully, he respects human rights.
But if he’s going to replicate it,
then we’re going to see more bodies on the streets.
So even as the Philippines’ government is being investigated
by the International Criminal Court in The Hague
for crimes against humanity in their war on drugs,
that war looks set to continue.
We’d like to congratulate drugs
for winning the war on drugs.
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