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World News /11 May 2019
05.11.19

Population Control by Duterte

The political sphere in the Philippines seems to gradually move towards balance, as less and less opposition and criticisms are being heard. It is not because those subside as much as it is a result of an overzealous president who simply kills whoever is in his way. The Philippines’s war on drugs justifies the killing of tens of thousands of citizens for their alleged involvement in drug activities. Similarly, journalists who dare defy the government’s messaging risk their lives, as the government targets and execute media professionals. Survival in the Philippines has become less about competition over resources and more about conformity with the regime.

From day one of Rodrigo Duterte’s tenure as president, extrajudicial killings related to illegal drug trade rose. Most victims come from rural and indigenous communities. Tess McEvoy, ISHR (International Service for Human Rights) Programme Manager and Legal Counsel said, “this is particularly concerning for indigenous land and environmental defenders who are the most frequent victims – in 2015 alone there have been 25 recorded killings, with most victims belonging to indigenous communities.” Extrajudicial killings in the Philippines go hand in hand with enforced disappearances, the governmental practice of the abduction of citizens suspected as “enemies of the state.” At the end of 2017, AFAD (the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances) said, there are 1,993 documented cases of enforced disappearances under various administrations in the Philippines. Out of this number, 1,166 are still disappeared, 584 surfaced alive, and 243 were found dead.

The rising numbers of deaths can be attributed to Duterte’s war on drugs, the precursor for most cases. “This violent crackdown on illegal drugs has plunged the country into its worst human rights crisis since the Marcos dictatorship with an unprecedented number of human rights violations and among which are enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings,” AFAD secretary general Mary Aileen Bacalso said. On August 26, 2016, the official death total reached 2,000. Official records from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency give the number of deaths from July 2016 to November 2018 from the anti-drug campaign as 5,050. In March 2018, Filipino deaths related to the Philippine Drug War peaked at 20,000 people, which was equivalent to the entire population of a rural municipality. According to the Philippine National Police (PNP), 22,983 such deaths since the “war on drugs” began are classified as “homicides under investigation.” Masked gunmen taking part in killings appeared to be working closely with police, casting doubt on government claims that most killings have been committed by vigilantes or rival drug gangs. Duterte has vowed to continue his anti-drug campaign until his term ends in 2022. In July 2018, he again pledged to continue the “war on drugs,” saying “it will be as relentless and chilling as on the day it began.”

Duterte successfully bundled drug offenses with journalism, extending his grip over to the free press who criticize him and his regime. The Duterte administration ratcheted up its attack on media freedom in January 2018 by threatening the closure of Rappler, an online news outlet critical of the “war on drugs.” In November, the Department of Justice indicted Rappler and its editor and founder, Maria Ressa, for tax evasion. This followed months of attacks and harassment of Rappler by the Duterte government and its supporters. Before he took his oath of office, Duterte said journalists killed on the job in the Philippines were often corrupt. “Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son of a bitch,” he said, “freedom of expression cannot help you if you have done something wrong.” New draft regulations by the Philippine House of Representatives in May would allow Congress to ban reporters who “besmirch” the reputation of lawmakers from covering the national legislature. Journalists and some members of Congress have denounced the proposed rule as dangerously ambiguous and stifling. The killings of journalists continued in 2018, with six murdered by unidentified gunmen in different parts of the country.

On December 20, 2016, journalists Larry Que was executed by the government, becoming one of the most notable cases of a journalist who paid with his life for publishing criticism of the government. “Que’s murder came after he published his column, which criticised local officials and their alleged negligence in allowing the setting up on the island-province of a recently raided shabu [the local name for methamphetamine] laboratory that authorities claimed was the biggest so far discovered in the country,” the International Federation of Journalists said. According to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), a second journalist, broadcaster, Jinky Tabor, who was a witness to the raids that discovered the lab, has received death threats. Since February 2017, Senator Leila de Lima has been jailed on politically motivated drug charges filed against her in apparent retaliation for leading a Senate inquiry into the “drug war” killings. In September, Duterte ordered the arrest of a colleague of de Lima’s, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, by revoking his amnesty, forcing him to remain on the Senate premises for weeks. In October, a Manila court dismissed the government’s petition to issue the arrest warrant against Trillanes. Trillanes has been Duterte’s most vocal critics since de Lima, accusing the president and his family of corruption.

Rodrigo Duterte just wants people to let him rule his country the way he wants. Those pesky journalists keep saying bad things about him in the media. So he kills them. Duterte used a semi-popular law targeting illicit drug activity to point his gun at whomever says things he doesn’t like. The more people he kills, the less criticism there is in the Philippines and the more public support the president has. Eventually, survival in the Philippines is a product of not getting in Duterte’s way.

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