Philippine Human Rights Abuses Spark International Controversy

By, Cecilia de Almeida CAS ’19

Over the course of the last 12 weeks, the newly elected president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, has been tasked with eradicating the country’s drug problem. After taking office, the Philippines has seen a rise in the number of extrajudicial killings, and many human rights groups believe the inflammatory comments during his campaign have been crucial in fostering a sense of resentment and belligerence towards drug users and traffickers. “The most recent Philippine National Police Data shows that from July 1st to September 4th, police killed an estimate of 1,011 suspected drug pushers and users,”(1) with the police claiming resistance to arrest as cause for the significant increase in police killings. The Human Rights Watch recommends the local government allow the United Nations to conduct an independent, impartial investigation into these recent killings, ultimately identifying Duterte’s involvement. Throughout the campaign, Duterte emphasized that if elected president, he would have no issue violating international and Philippine law to eradicate the problem once and for all.

The entire campaign has been centered around the promise of eradicating the drug epidemic, which has been severely detrimental to the country’s economy. The most popular drug in the Philippines is an incredibly addictive local type of methamphetamine mixed with caffeine known as Shabu. The drug first arrived in the country in the mid -1980s, and in less than two decades has caused serious social and economic problems. According to a 2009 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) report, “Consumption of illicit drugs limits chances of entering or remaining in the workforce,”  and “drug abusers in the workforce impose significant extra costs on the business sector, thus reducing its competitiveness” (2). More specifically, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency states that frequent Shabu users can experience “acute psychotic reactions, violent and destructive behaviour and recklessness that may results in accidents”(3). 

 

White House National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told the media that he “expects President Obama will raise concerns about some of the recent statements from the president of the Philippines”(4) during the ASEAN conference that took place in the beginning of the month. The two world leaders were scheduled to attend a bilateral meeting Summit in Laos, but the White House cancelled the meeting after the Filipino president cursed at President Obama during a press conference. Although the Filipino president later apologized, high tensions over the South China sea are challenging American influence in the region. The Obama administration sees it as imperative to strengthen diplomatic ties with its allies, especially with the Philippines in which U.S. forces are stationed. Fearing it would alienate itself in the region, the U.S. shielded away from condemning the current human rights violations during the ASEAN conference, and chose to focus on how to accelerate the economic growth in the region. Several human rights groups,– including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, -have come out and condemned the actions and rhetoric of the current Filipino government, claiming that “since winning the presidential election, President Duterte triggered widespread alarm by calling for the restoration of the death penalty, vowing to preside over a wave of extrajudicial executions, threatening journalists, and intimidating human rights defenders” (5). What must be considered in the coming months is whether the strategies currently implemented by the government are indeed the most effective methods through which the Philippines can attempt to curb the drug problem plaguing the country.

  1. “Philippines: Independent Investigation of Duterte Needed.” Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch, 15 Sept. 2016. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.
  2. “UNITED NATIONS INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON DRUG ABUSE AND ILLICIT TRAFFICKING: DECISIONS OF THE CONFERENCE.” International Legal Materials 26.6 (1987): 1637-724. Web.
  3. “UNITED NATIONS INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON DRUG ABUSE AND ILLICIT TRAFFICKING: DECISIONS OF THE CONFERENCE.” International Legal Materials 26.6 (1987): 1637-724. Web.
  4. Philippines. PDEA. PDEA. Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency. Republic of the Philippines, n.d. Web. 1 Oct. 2016.
  5. Westcott, Ben. “Obama to Meet Philippines President Duterte, Raise Human Rights Issues.” CNN. Cable News Network, 30 Aug. 2016. Web. 01 Oct. 2016.

Image Credit: RAFFY LERMA of Oxford Human Rights Hub