21 Jul
  • By James Evans

Philippines War on Drugs

Over a year since taking office, The Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs is quickly turning into a massacre with an estimated 7000 alleged drug dealers and takers killed since he promised to end the “drug problem” in the Philippines. Of the 7000 killings, 3116 were killed by the police, they rest by other security forces and “unidentified gunmen”.

Duterte had promised to halt the drug abuse and lawlessness he saw in Filipino society with an iron fist. Duterte is known for his strong language and violent statements, here is one of his recent ones.

And here’s the shocker: “I will kill you. I will really kill you.”

During his first public speech after being inaugurated Duterte said “These sons of whores are destroying our children. I warn you, don’t go into that, even if you’re a policeman, because I will really kill you,”  


(A Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) agent. © Romeo Ranoco / Reuters.)

He has also recently confirmed comments he made claiming to have personally killed 3 or 4 people as an example to police while he was mayor of the town of Davao. He also once threatened so called corrupt officials by saying “I will pick you up in a helicopter to Manila, and I will throw you out on the way, I’ve done it before. Why would I not do it again?”

Duterte’s war against drugs is being waged from the streets to the senate, but the people who are dying are not drug lords or even large dealers, they are almost exclusively poor small time uses and dealers. Here, the victims die in the streets, wearing flip-flops and often with only a tiny sachet of methamphetamines – shabu – found on their bodies.


(President Rodrigo Duterte, presents a chart which he claims to be of a drug trade network of high level drug syndicates in the Philippines. 2017)

No legal process, no trial, no murder convictions, just dead people. The amount room for abuse in this new system is colossal. There have been floods of accusations from human rights groups, NGO’s, witnesses and The Opposition in the Philippines. The preference seems to be to kill addicts rather than make any attempt to treat them. Many witnesses share tales of police planting evidence after killing people who had already surrendered and were begging for their lives. Reports have also been made which document police bringing victims to hospitals to attempt to show a concern for life. However, 98% of people brought to hospital injured in the drug war arrive dead. Doctors report victims brought in with precision shots to the head and heart, often evidently delivered from close range, these wounds are not compatible with police accounts which claim most of these “drug criminals” die in confusing gunfights in which they had not meant to kill them.

Duterte has also repeated urged on vigilante killings with frequent statements such as this one, “If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful.” He has also assured police that he will not prosecute them for extrajudicial executions. Which literally would mean police can kill anyone they suspect of a crime without any judicial process or legality.


(Woman hugs her partner, on the street where he was shot. Next to him is a placard which reads “I’m a pusher.” 2017)

Another issue which has been created by this war on drugs is the complete overcrowding of the prison system. The prison system in the Philippines has a maximum capacity of 20,399, but is currently holding nearly 132,000 detainees, the overwhelming majority of them awaiting trial or sentencing while living with unsanitary conditions and inadequate food supply.

As recently as last week 18 police who were on trial for the murder of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. a political opponent of Duterte. Espinosa was killed in a prison cell after allegedly drawing a concealed pistol on the officers. However, two separate senate investigations ruled that Espinosa had not died in a gunfight as the police alleged and that the police had committed premeditated murder. The circumstances were very suspicious. Duterte had publicly stated that if they were convicted he would pardon them, reinstate them and promote them.


(Filipino demonstrators mimics victims at an extrajudicial killing crime scene during a protest in front of the Philippine National Police (PNP) headquarters)

The acceptance and encouragement of unlawful killings by the president will only bread further unlawfulness. A united nations investigation is urgently needed to attempt to hold Duterte and his men accountable for their actions. The US Congress is holding a public hearing on this war on drugs on July 20th which will hopefully put some international pressure on Duterte.



  1. “Philippines: Duterte’s First Year a Human Rights Calamity: Summary Killings, Prison Overcrowding, Assaults on Critics” Human Rights Watch.
  2. “Philippines Leader Vows to Pardon Police Accused in Mayor’s Death” New York Times. Felipe Villamorapril. 2017.
  3. “US Congress public hearing on PH war-on-drugs killings set for July 20”  2017