War on drugs: Filipinos still confronted with many questions
[Editor’s Note: President Rodrigo Duterte will deliver his third State of the Nation Address [Sona] on July 23. The Inquirer looks back at promises he made in Sona 2016 and Sona 2017, and how he and his administration performed on those promises. We will also look at major issues that marked his two years in office in our #Sona2018 series.]
For the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), the Duterte administration has failed to achieve its goals in its brutal campaign against illegal drugs.
“There is a high indication based on news reports that drugs continue to proliferate in the country and this puts into question the effectiveness of the war on drugs, which initially was only supposed to be for six months,” said lawyer Jacqueline de Guia, spokesperson for the CHR.
She was referring to the six-month timetable that President Rodrigo Duterte set for his administration to solve the illegal drug problem in the country at the start of his term. He has since extended the deadline to the end of his term in 2022.
The government’s gains in the war on drugs come up yet again, a year after the President in his second State of the Nation Address (Sona) vowed to wage an unrelenting fight against narcotics.
Data released by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in March showed that 4,075 “drug-linked” people had been killed while 91,704 operations against illegal drugs had been carried out since President Duterte assumed office at the end of June 2016.
The Philippine National Police and Malacañang acknowledge 4,354 killings from July 1, 2016, to June 30, much lower than the 12,000 estimated by the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Researchers from Ateneo de Manila University and De La Salle University have counted 5,021 deaths from May 2016 to September 2017. They presented their research to the public on June 25.
But no matter how unrelenting the campaign is, the CHR said, the government would not find a solution unless it deals with the cause of the problem—poverty.
Accusations that state forces are responsible for the thousands of killings have weakened the government’s supposed gains in campaign, the CHR said.
“Allegations of extrajudicial killings puts into doubt the credibility of police operations and is exacerbated by extreme proposals such as those coming from PDEA, which seeks mandatory drug testing of children, negating the best interest of the child rule,” De Guia said.
The government has repeatedly denied extrajudicial killings in the war on drugs.
“[D]espite the significant gains, many side issues and, to some extent, deliberate disinformation, continue to obscure the true picture of our antidrug operations, often mislabeling the pure good intention of the campaign with human rights issues and political undertones,” Director General Oscar Albayalde, chief of the Philippine National Police, said in a news conference at Camp Crame in Quezon City in May.
In April, after the European Parliament criticized the brutal crackdown on narcotics, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque announced that the government had filed charges against police officers involved in unlawful killings.
Roque said the filing of charges was proof that “impunity doesn’t have a place in our society.”
The CHR is handling 1,129 cases of alleged human rights abuses related to the drug war, involving 1,395 victims, its records showed.
Of those cases, 614 involve alleged abuses during police operations, while 511 are so-called vigilante killings, of which about 90 percent are being investigated by the CHR on its own initiative. The rest have been initiated through formal complaints.
Ninety-five percent of the cases handled by the CHR involve killings, De Guia said.
While previous administrations had their own share of human rights complaints, the Duterte administration’s record of killings is “unprecedented,” she said.
“The commission has been trying its best to attend to each and every case of extrajudicial killing, but we were confronted with the size and scale that we struggle to cope with,” she added.
The prevailing “climate of fear” has also hobbled the CHR’s investigation of the drug war killings, with witnesses refusing to come forward.
For the HRW, the Duterte administration’s drug campaign is a “bogus war that has caused immeasurable misery among mostly poor Filipinos.”
The group, too, said the government failed in its objective of reducing the effects of the illegal drug menace.
“If we measure it by the government’s stated purpose of reducing demand, it is not entirely clear. If the drug war really worked, one would think the streets would be clear of drugs by now. But no,” HRW researcher Carlos Conde said.
With the drug problem persisting even after the killing of more than 12,000 people in the campaign, Filipinos find themselves confronted with many questions, the HRW said.
“Are those deaths a measure of the drug war’s effectiveness? Only if the Duterte government considers the poor the problem, which it apparently does,” Conde said.
The HRW said that while the body count had decreased, the government had continued its “antipoor” campaigns, such as rounding up loiterers, and attacks against journalists, human rights advocates and religious leaders who “check Duterte’s abuse of power.”
“As the Duterte government enters its third year, what becomes as important as the body count is accountability, which remains zero. In this sense, things have only gotten worse,” it said.
If the effectiveness of the war on drugs is to be gauged through figures, the findings of the Commission on Audit on the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) are telling.
In its 2017 audit report, the COA said the DILG failed to fulfill the objectives of its main program against illegal drugs, the Mamamayang Ayaw sa Anomalya, Mamamayang Ayaw sa Droga (Masa Masid).
Launched in 2017, the Masa Masid program, aimed at increasing public awareness of drugs and corruption and encouraging community participation in solving these problems, was given a budget of P500 million for that year.
The DILG directed local governments to employ certain strategies in the fight against drugs: Demand reduction through advocacy and education campaigns; demand and supply reduction through information gathering and reporting; and community-based rehabilitation programs.
The bulk of the budget, P380.232 million, or 76.05 percent, was distributed to various regional offices from June to December 2017 for the conduct of training programs, COA records showed.
But according to the COA, Masa Masid failed to achieve its objectives due to the slow or nonimplementation of programmed activities.
Unused funds amounting to P88.689 million were hurriedly transferred for use by other agencies, it added.
“Based on the foregoing [findings], the nonimplementation of programmed activities and nonutilization of program funds were indicative that [the DILG] had not prepared a concrete plan for Masa Masid, which resulted in the no-attainment of the program’s objective[s],” the COA said.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.