Drug War

Philippine Anti-Drug Strategy: 'Kill Them All'

Rodrigo Duterte echoes American drug warriors.


Thirty-three countries have laws that authorize the death penalty for drug offenses. The Philippines is not one of them. But since Rodrigo Duterte was elected president last May after promising to "fatten all the fish" in Manila Bay with the bodies of criminals, police and vigilantes have killed hundreds of drug dealers and users.

Testifying before the Philippine Senate last Tuesday, National Police Chief Ronald dela Rosa said cops had killed 756 drug suspects since July 1, the day after Duterte was sworn in as president, while 1,160 people had been killed "outside police operations." The death toll rose by 137 between Monday and Tuesday, so by now it is presumably in the thousands.

Duterte's methods may be bloodier than those typically employed by American prohibitionists, but his logic is similar, casting peaceful transactions—the exchange of money for psychoactive substances—as acts of aggression that pose an existential threat to the nation. This is war, after all, so there is no room for legal niceties.

Dela Rosa says the drug suspects were killed because they resisted arrest. Duterte, a former prosecutor whose anti-crime slogan is "kill them all," has repeatedly said police waging his war on drugs should "shoot to kill" if they face any resistance. As mayor of Davao, he declared that criminal suspects are "a legitimate target of assassination," and after taking office as president he urged citizens to kill drug users as well as drug dealers. "These sons of whores are destroying our children," he told a crowd in a poor neighborhood of Manila. "I warn you, don't go into that, even if you're a policeman, because I will really kill you…If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful."

When Duterte was Davao's mayor, hundreds of people died in that city at the hands of vigilantes, homicides he both encouraged and disavowed. Now Dela Rosa says the vigilante killings since Duterte became president will be investigated, but it's no mystery why they have recently exploded. Nor is it surprising that the vigilantes have not been very discriminating about the people they mark for death.

Last month Michael Siaron, a 29-year-old rickshaw driver in Manila, was shot by gunmen who left a cardboard sign next to his body identifying him as a "pusher." His relatives say he occasionally used methamphetamine (the main target of Duterte's drug war), but they insist he never sold it. After The Philippine Daily Inquirer ran a front-page photograph of Siaron's wife cradling his body in the street under the headline "Thou Shalt Not Kill," Duterte seemed unmoved. "There you are sprawled on the ground, and you are portrayed in a broadsheet like Mother Mary cradling the dead cadaver of Jesus Christ," he said in a speech to Congress. "That's just drama."

The police also have been less than punctilious about whom and when they kill. After two small-time Manila dealers, 49-year-old Renato Bertes and his 28-year-old son, Jaypee Bertes, were killed while in custody last month, the cops claimed the arrestees had tried to grab their guns. But an investigation by the Philippine Commission on Human Rights found both men had been severely beaten and were incapable of resistance. The evidence in that case, which a senator described as a "summary execution," was so clear that the government had no choice but to bring murder charges against two officers. Many other cases in which police claim to have killed drug suspects in self-defense will not get the same scrutiny.

Duterte says he wants to reinstate the death penalty, which at this point seems redundant. Why bother making it official when you can execute people much more efficiently in the street?

While the complete lack of due process makes Duterte's homicidal anti-drug crackdown especially appalling, the legal, cold-blooded execution of drug offenders who are duly sentenced to death is horrifying in its own way, since the government feels no need to pretend something else is going on. "The death penalty for drugs is both distressingly common (in terms of the overall number of people killed) [and] incredibly rare (in terms of the number of States that carry out the sentence)," Patrick Gallahue and Rick Lines observe in a 2015 report from Harm Reduction International (HRI). "Hundreds of people are executed every year for drugs, the overwhelming majority of them in just a few countries. Thousands more are sentenced to death. Those few countries that execute people for drugs represent an extreme fringe of the international community."

HRI identified 33 countries that authorize the death penalty for drug offenses, but it classified just seven—China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, and Indonesia—as "high application states," meaning "the sentencing of people convicted of drug offences to death and/or carrying out executions are routine and mainstreamed part of the criminal justice system." Three of those countries—China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia—account for almost all known executions of drug offenders: 546 out of 549 in 2013.

The actual total is probably higher, and the list of states that carry out executions may be a bit longer, especially since no data are available for North Korea. But the idea that death is an appropriate penalty for supplying people with products they want—sometimes in cases involving drug quantities as small as a few grams—has increasingly fallen out of favor in recent years. Many argue that the practice violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which says the death penalty must be reserved for the "most serious crimes." According to the U.N. Human Rights Committee, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, and the International Narcotics Control Board, that category does not include drug offenses.

But in the United States, it does. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, the crime bill that former President Bill Clinton alternately brags about and apologizes for, authorized the death penalty for large-scale drug trafficking, a provision that has never been carried out. It probably never will, since it seems to be unconstitutional under Kennedy v. Louisiana, the 2008 case in which the Supreme Court said the Eighth Amendment requires that the death penalty be reserved for "crimes that take the life of the victim."

As far as William J. Bennett is concerned, that's a shame. Back in 1989, when he was running the Office of National Drug Control Policy under Clinton's predecessor, Bennett said "there's no moral problem" with beheading drug dealers—the preferred method in Saudi Arabia. Although beheading might be legally problematic, he said on Larry King Live, it would be "morally proportional to the nature of the offense." And Bennett ought to know, since he has a Ph.D. in philosophy. "I used to teach ethics," he told Larry King. "Trust me." The following year, Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates took Bennett's logic a step further, telling a Senate committee that casual drug users "ought to be taken out and shot" as traitors in the war on drugs.

Although Rodrigo Duterte is sometimes compared to Donald Trump, he could be taking his cues from Bennett, Gates, and other American drug warriors who heartily endorsed lethal responses to nonviolent actions. Duterte's portrayal of meth addicts as subhuman and unworthy of life also has parallels in American propaganda. His main distinction is that he follows through on the murderous implications of his mindless anti-drug rhetoric—something voters apparently admire. The New York Times reports that "Mr. Duterte's crackdown has been hugely popular."

This article originally appeared at Forbes.com.

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  1. otherwise being referred to as the "christian taliban"....

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  2. This is the problem with open borders mentality. You cant apply our ideas about ethics, legality and morality to other cultures. They are different than we are. Their ideas about everything are different. You can criticize and condemn but any attempt to hold them to our standards is akin to our recent disastrous nation building efforts. It just doesnt work. It's their country and they are the only ones who can fix their problems. We can make the world a better place by holding those inside our own borders to a high standard of civilized behavior.

    If you don't like barbarism stay away from barbarians. And for fuck's sake don't ship them here by the thousands.

    1. Somebody didn't read the whole article...

      1. "The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, the crime bill that former President Bill Clinton alternately brags about and apologizes for, authorized the death penalty for large-scale drug trafficking, a provision that has never been carried out."

        I got it, and addressed it; "We can make the world a better place by holding those inside our own borders to a high standard of civilized behavior."

        1. We haven't held nor tried to impose a 'higher standard of behavior' on people in other countries regarding drugs. Not only is prohibition a *lower standard of behavior* than what Americans should aspire to, we've been bribing other countries' governments to lower their standards to ours.

          And its been working by attracting the worst people to law enforcement - people who are then able to convince themselves that in satisfying their base urges to dominate others they are 'doing good'.

          Its 99% of the reason why Northern Mexico is effectively ungovernable right now - not through any inherent defect in the Mexican people or their politicians but because we've created a system of incentives and subsidize horror.

          1. "We haven't held nor tried to impose a 'higher standard of behavior' on people in other countries regarding drugs."

            I mean except for the fact that the USA is largely behind the drug war in every country on earth. Besides, that, I guess not.

            1. I think that was his point. The US pushing drugwar on every country in the world may have been, in the eyes of the people who thought it was a good idea, an attempt to impose a higher standard of behavior. But to me (and I would think most others here), it looks like quite the opposite. The US has pushed other governments toward exactly this kind of murderous lawlessness by promoting a war on drugs.

                1. Well, at least it's starting to look like other countries in the Americas (south of us) are starting to rethink this whole thing. I hope anyway, although I know our government will throw even more sacks of dollars at their corrupt leaders to keep it going.

              1. The US pushing drugwar on every country in the world

                I'm not convinced that this is an issue anywhere other than Mexico. Iran and Malaysia? They could give two shits about American drug policy - the fact is they LIKE executing druggies.

                1. Well, it's certainly an issue in most of the Americas.

                  I guess I know a lot less about the history of drug prohibition and trafficking in Asia. I'm thinking US policy at least had some effect in the big opium producing areas (didn't we give a bunch of money to the Taliban after they pretty much shut down opium production in Afghanistan?). But I don't really know how much the US has to do with the extra harsh stuff in places like the Filipines and Malaysia or Indonesia.

                  1. Yeah I don't know enough either. Sounds like a good topic for an article.

                    What bugs me is some people's insistence that the US is responsible for other countries' abhorrent treatment of drug users and "pushers" when it's pretty clear that "drugs are bad" is a common refrain in many cultures besides ours.

                2. Its an issue in Afghanistan. Its an issue in Iraq.

                  Sure, lot's of countries just like executing people - we've just been giving them money and a 'moral' justification for feeling good about it.

        2. It's funny that Daryl Gates didn't set an example and shoot his own son when he got busted.

    2. Who's talking about shipping thousands of Filipinos here?

      1. Quiet you. It's hard enough riding a hobby horse over such rough terrain without your ceaseless questions.

      2. The US Navy?

      3. General MacArthur? Wait sorry that was the inverse.

  3. Malaysia was listed as a country that has and uses the death penalty for drug offences. I was there in the late 90's probably about 97. While there a school was raided by the police and every student form one grade level was arrested for drug possession These kids where about 12yo so very much kids. There was a lot of debate about what to do as many supporters of the death penalty did not like the idea of executing so many children.

    I did find if sadly ironic that many members of the press where also arrested. Reporters photographed and published pictures of the kids in handcuffs and shackles. In Malaysia it is against the law to photograph children without parental consent. So nice that the Malaysian government was concerned about protecting the children's decency, while deciding if they should be executed.

    I was not in the country long enough to learn what happened to those kids. Probably not a good situation even if the government decided to not execute them.

  4. Now there's a fella what knows how to run a war.

  5. Macabre methodologies are the poltergeists of humanity.

  6. Drugs are bad, mmkay?

    In other news, just wonder if any of our regulars have been been spotted hanging out near some woods in SC lately.

    Hey kid, come over here!

    1. So the clown says "You're scared? I'm the one who has to walk back alone!"

    2. Wow. Five (sic)s in a one paragraph letter to residents. What we have here is a failure to communicate.

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  8. I heard on MSNBC that this guy is exactly like Trump. So I guess the Donald is going to turn vigilantes loose to kill pot smokers. At least the children will be safe now. I mean unless they're caught smoking drugs.

    1. ... even as the noxious fixers [msnbc] vacuum Hillary reflections from the shimmering forebode dappling on decades of Clintonioan dark waters.

    1. What, you're telling us that if you tell people just go out and kill anyone you think might do drugs, that something actually 'could' go wrong? Get out of here!

    2. ::clicks on article::

      ::sees somebody arguing for marijuana legalisation in comments::

      ::sees this comment in response::

      I am a FILIPINO. I agree, you better not come to our country. There's no room for stupid people here. Before you make a comment, try to check your source and find a legitimate facts first. OUR PRESIDENT WORKS FOR THE PEOPLE AND NEVER DID SPENT A SINGLE CENT FOR HIMSELF. SADISTIC???YES HE IS -- YOU MUST BE ON DRUGS. BECAUSE HE ONLY ORDERS SHOOT TO KILL TO THOSE WHO ARE CAUGHT ON DRUGS AND FIGHTING BACK. OTHERWISE -- WE ALSO KNOW HOW REHAB WORKS. So , again, WE DON't entertain stupid people here.

      ::slices wrists::

      1. I agree, you better not come to our country.

        Have no worries, friend.

        BTW, your food sucks.

        1. Ok, balut is nasty as hell, but if you're trying to say bad stuff about adobo or lumpia i'm gonna have to stick you on the list of People Who Don't Like Things That Taste Good with UncivilServant.

          1. *googles*


            Nah, I ordered the "steak" and it was this stringy thing with about 4 times as much salt as it could have possibly needed. I was told later that this was usual.

          2. I agree, you better not come to our country.

            +1 "Have no worries, friend."

            PS - Manny Pacquiao is a homosexual.

  9. At least we didn't give this guy millions of dollars. Oh wait...

  10. Related:

    Philippines' Duterte offers reward for corrupt police linked to drugs

    Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday promised rewards running to tens of thousands of dollars for information leading to the capture of police officers protecting drug syndicates and warned corrupt officials they would face "a day of reckoning".

    Singling out corrupt policemen known as "ninjas", who take pay-offs from drug lords, Duterte said he was placing a 2 million peso ($43,000) bounty on their heads, telling their colleagues to "squeal on your friends".

    1. So even there there's that old double standard - kill all the dope peddlers, just shoot 'em down in the street like dogs. Unless they're cops and then you should just tell on them and we'll arrest them. Are they going to get a written reprimand and a few weeks paid leave to think about what they've done, too?

      But it is sad to see this going on in the Philippines - Filipinos are some of the most out-going, tolerant, friendliest people on the planet. Just about every country has a Filipino community of some sort or another, they have no problem picking up and moving to other countries and fitting right in. They're sort of a reverse US - we're a nation of immigrants from other countries, they're a nation of emigrants to other countries. And man, has God ever took a shit on those folks, they've endured some brutal history.

      1. And they're going to endure more.

  11. At least someone is thinking of the taxpayer.


  12. At least this guy has provided an easy way to get rid of those pesky neighbors that you don't like. Hey, they were doing drugs!

  13. He's giving Frank Drebin a run for his money

    *Upon being recognized for killing his 1000th drug dealer* Thank you, commissioner. In all honesty, I backed over the last two with my car. Fortunately, it turned out that they were, in fact, drug dealers."

  14. You know, I used to be a big believer in democracy; I generally believed, with some limitations, the more, the better. 2016 has definitely shaken my faith.

    1. I've become a much bigger fan of the Constitution in recent years, I'll tell you whut.

      1. Yeah, but there are some serious balance issues in the way this one is written. It's way too easy to violate.

  15. So this Duterte guy is basically doing what US politicians have been tacitly endorsing for as long as there has been a drug war here. The same stuff happens here in no-knock raids and police killings. No vigilante squads yet, but if there were, few would complain. Sure, Reason and a few left-leaning media outlets are disturbed by it, but the political class privately says good riddance. Duterte is only guilty of being open about it-how tacky!

    1. There is some truth to this, but it's also worth noting that a lot of people see their loved ones as part of this system. Death to the drug pushers, rehab for the drug users. Because my little Johnny would never do drugs if someone didn't make him do it.

      If the hammer of murder was brought to bear against the nail of drug use, I imagine suddenly a lot of people's opinions would change (if only to engage in more special pleading).

  16. Ending recidivism one shot at a time.

  17. As far as William J. Bennett is concerned, that's a shame. Back in 1989, when he was running the Office of National Drug Control Policy under Clinton's predecessor, Bennett said "there's no moral problem" with beheading drug dealers?the preferred method in Saudi Arabia

    Bennett is just another phony 'conservative' who claims to believe in 'limited government,' but supports the drug war which is not authorized by the US Constitution.

    Fuck you Bennett.

  18. keep the prohibition law .. and let the drugs kill them. Who needs laws?

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  20. Duterte's views were known and he was elected. This is what the Phillippine's voted for. I don't agree, but it is their country and the choice of their voters.

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