Crime & Justice

War on drugs: Duterte’s bloody legacy in the Philippines

By Gaspar Ruiz-Canela

Bangkok, Oct 1 (EFE).- The war on drugs, investigated by the International Criminal Court over alleged crimes against humanity, is Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloodiest legacy, whose mandate is ending with Friday’s candidate registration for May’s general elections.

The court in The Hague ordered on Sep. 15 the investigation of the war on drugs Duterte led after coming to power in 2016, while the controversial president faces a new challenge, since he cannot legally stand for reelection.

Friday’s electoral registration, in which Duerte filed to run as vice president, would revoke his immunity as head of state, but would grant him some protection if he wins and is allied with the future president.

Some analysts suggest his daughter Sara Duterte could run as a presidential candidate in next year’s elections, but she has so far refuted the idea.

The war on drugs is Duterte’s most controversial legacy, which despite thousands of deaths, has not managed to end drug trafficking.

The Philippine police said they had killed more than 6,100 suspects in drug trafficking raids, but human rights groups speak of between 27,000 and 30,000 dead, mostly victims of alleged extrajudicial executions.

Victims include at least 112 children, according to a report published in 2020 by the World Organization Against Torture.

Despite his repeated calls to kill traffickers and drug addicts, Duterte denies involvement in the extrajudicial executions, but his government has recognized failures in the drug war that began in 2016.

In a taped speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Duterte said last week he had ordered the Justice Department and the police to review police officers’ behavior in anti-drug operations.

In a plea against foreign interference, without citing the court, the president said those who have “exceeded the limits” must submit to Philippine laws, adding that “significant change, to be lasting, must come from within.”

Also under pressure from the UN Human Rights Council, Philippine authorities have announced the investigation of about 60 of the more than 6,100 deaths that occurred during operations against drug trafficking.

However, human rights groups denounce that investigations are late, insufficient and focus on the police who follow the orders and not on those who give them.

“The government, while advocating a strong hand in the war on drugs, also wants to improve its image because it worries and thinks about how the war on drugs is perceived, nationally and internationally,” said Aries Arugay, a University of the Philippines Political Science professor.

He said impunity for alleged extrajudicial executions is one of the reasons the court has decided to investigate the war on drugs.

In their written decision, court magistrates described police raids with numerous fatalities that would be part of “state policy,” as “there is a clear link between the murders and the government’s campaign against drugs.”

The judges said the order in a National Police circular to “neutralize” suspects in drug raids is a euphemism for “murder.”

The Duterte government, which withdrew its country from the court in 2019, said it has no jurisdiction in the Philippines adding it will not allow investigators to enter the country.

Cristina Palabay, secretary general of rights organizations coalition Karapatan, told EFE that court investigators can collect evidence from abroad, such as police report copies provided by non-governmental sources without entering the Philippines

“(The court) can obtain testimonial evidence through secure online or remote communication with victims, family members and other sources,” the activist said.

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