Since the election, the drug war has claimed more than 1,800 lives. The bloody bodies of alleged dealers and users have been left on sidewalks with cardboard placards suggesting involvement in the drug trade. Rights groups opposed Duterte backing death squads when he was still mayor of Davao and Time nicknamed him “The Punisher” Today, Human Rights Watch calls the situation “extremely alarming”.
Drastic times call for drastic measures, argue the proponents of the administration. By early August, Duterte had linked more than 150 judges, mayors, lawmakers, police and military personnel to illegal drugs ordering them to surrender: “I’m giving you 24 hours to report to your mother unit or I will whack you,” he said at a military camp. Reportedly, nearly 600,000 people have surrendered to authorities, trying to avoid getting killed. Prisons have turned into overcrowded, sardine-pack nightmares.
As far as critics are concerned, Duterte is undermining human rights, despite his statements against extra judicial killings. This argument has been directed against Duterte by the UN, the United States and the Philippine rights organizations. Yet, he considers the critics naïve. Let’s illustrate the point: One of his most vocal critics has been Senator Leila De Lima; a former human rights commissioner, who had a stint as Aquino’s Justice Secretary and whose statements have often been taken at face value by well-meaning observers. As De Lima accused Duterte for human rights violations, he dropped a bombshell alleging that de Lima was linked to the illegal drugs trade inside the New Bilibid Prison (which is under the DOJ); that she had bought a mansion to her driver who is also her lover; and that the driver collected drug funds for her during her senate campaign. Duterte struck a nerve. Last March, Discovery Channel’s Lou Ferrente, a former Gambino mobster, took a closer look at the world’s largest prison, which held 20,000 inmates and was run by drug lords who lived like royalties and seemed to have a close relationship with De Lima. While De Lima blames Duterte for character assassination, she is now under investigation for alleged links to illegal drug syndicates. According to the new DOJ, the investigation covers the top to the bottom ranks of the previous DOJ that De Lima headed.
As far as Duterte is concerned, he feels he is not moving fast enough. The Mexican drug cartel Sinaloa, the largest source of illegal drugs to the US, is already using the Philippines as an intermediate destination. Due to challenges in directly reaching America, the cartel is operating in the Philippines via transshipment. These activities were discovered around 2013 when a Mexican operation worth almost $100 million was confiscated. Duterte’s concern is that Manila has only a few years to curb illegal drugs and to avoid the fate of Mexico’s border regions.
These dramatic exchanges and tough measures have unleashed much debate in the Philippines. What actually happened in era of President Aquino? Despite substantial funds and the presidential crime commission, why so little was done to fight the drug lords and the cartel.
Despite rights organizations’ criticism, Duterte has the support of most Filipinos. In July, his trust rating soared to 91%. After two long decades of Marcos and after another two decades of anti-Marcos politics, reforms have not been accompanied by inclusive economic growth. Today, ordinary Filipinos are tired of waiting.
Duterte would like to “destroy the oligarchs that are embedded in government”. He describes them as “guys who just sit in their airplanes or their mansions. Their money adds up like the fare adding up in a taxi’s meter.” In early August, he singled out Filipino tycoon Roberto Ongpin; one of the 50 richest Filipinos in 2015 with a net worth of $900 million, according to Forbes. Duterte described him as a businessman close to people in power and implied he used political influence to foster his businesses. The oligarch ties go way back. Ongpin started his career as the trade secretary of Ferdinand Marcos.
By Dan Steinbock @ The World Financial Review