Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Filipinos ‘divisive over drug war’




Filipinos ‘divisive over drug war’

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Inmates stand next to a portrait of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte inside the city jail in Manila on August 13. ted aljibe/AFP

Filipinos ‘divisive over drug war’

JAILED drug user Bitoy Paras perks up when describing his support for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly war on narcotics, an unlikely fan of a campaign that has left Filipinos deeply conflicted.

“Duterte talks tough, saying he will get rid of addicts . . . I am happy he’s doing that,” he told AFP at Manila’s main jail, which is packed with drug suspects.

“But I feel uneasy about the killings,” said the 22-year-old rickshaw driver, whose real name cannot be used due to prison policy.

Paras’ seemingly paradoxical backing echoes that of millions of Filipinos, who polls say support the crackdown but not the thousands of slayings that are central to it.

Duterte’s drug war – his signature initiative – helped bring him to power in mid-2016, promising to rid society of narcotics by any means necessary.

Since then, police say they have killed 4,854 alleged drug users or dealers in self-defence, while rights groups estimate the true toll is at least triple that.

According to the latest survey by pollster SWS, the campaign still has the backing of 78 per cent of Filipinos, a figure undented in over a year.

Drug war proponents regularly point to these statistics as proof that the internationally condemned crackdown is the will of the people.

But those same polls show near unanimous agreement – 96 per cent – among the nation in opposition to the killing, saying the suspects should be taken alive.

Experts say Duterte’s campaign has tapped into genuine popular outrage over disorder, crime and dysfunction in a developing nation with millions of poor people and a turbulent political past.

“It’s not like they’re turning a blind eye [to the killing] but they’re really worried about the drug problem,” said Steven Rood, a fellow-in-residence at pollster SWS.

“It has been a problem for a long time and finally the president of the Philippines is doing something about it,” he added, describing how many Filipinos view the narcotics issue.

But for the family of Duterte voter Katherine Bautista, that belief was suddenly turned on its head by tragedy last year.

Bautista supported the crackdown until her stepson John Jezreel David was shot dead in what police said was an anti-drug operation even as she insisted her son was not a drug user.

“I was even saying that the tears of families [of those killed] seemed fake. But when it happened to us, I felt the pain they were feeling,” said Bautista.

“If it doesn’t happen to your family, you won’t wake up to the truth,” she added.

A significant strand in the opposition to the killings is the fear a loved could be slain just by being in the wrong place, not necessarily because of involvement in drugs.

“People feel very afraid that their families or their relatives might be placed in a situation where they could be the targets,” said Randy David, a sociologist and newspaper columnist in Manila.

“But how can you possibly disagree or not lend support for a campaign to rid this country of illegal drugs?” David added, saying the lethal methods were what prompted questions.

‘Not human’

Rare protests were held in the Philippines last year following the deaths of teenagers, while outrage over alleged abuses has prompted Duterte to twice remove police from the frontlines of the campaign – only to reinstate them, and promise to pardon officers convicted of murder.

The International Criminal Court has launched a preliminary examination into the killings, while rights groups say Duterte may be overseeing a crime against humanity.

Meanwhile, Duterte hammers the menace posed by drugs in near daily speeches in which he has described addicts as “not human”.

As the campaign continues, the death toll is well over Amnesty International’s count of 3,240 people killed during the nine years of martial law rule under dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the country’s darkest chapter since World War II.

Duterte recently addressed the thorny issue of the killings, delivering what critics called a clear admission they are suspect.

“What are my sins? Did I steal money? Even just one peso? Did I prosecute somebody I sent to jail?” he asked in a September speech. “My only sin is extrajudicial killings.”

MOST VIEWED

  • ‘Kingdom one of safest to visit in Covid-19 era’

    The Ministry of Tourism on January 12 proclaimed Cambodia as one of the safest countries to visit in light of the Kingdom having been ranked number one in the world by the Senegalese Economic Prospective Bureau for its success in handling the Covid-19 pandemic. In rankings

  • Kingdom accepts Chinese vaccine, PM first to get jab

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said China would offer Cambodia an immediate donation of one million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine produced by the Sinopharm company. In an audio message addressing the public on the night of January 15, he said Cambodia has accepted the offer and

  • Reeling in Cambodia’s real estate sector

    A new norm sets the scene but risks continue to play out in the background A cold wind sweeps through the streets of Boeung Trabek on an early January morning as buyers and traders engage in commerce under bright blue skies. From a distance, the

  • Hun Sen: Lakes filled in for national developments

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has announced continued operations to fill some lakes in Phnom Penh to create land for developments, though he is against the unrelated practice of damming rivers or blocking waterways. Speaking at the inauguration of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport

  • Koh Preus upgrades 70% complete

    Initial construction of a nearly $30 million tourism infrastructure project on Preah Sihanouk province’s Koh Preus Island is “about 70 per cent complete”, according to an official with the developer. Heng Thou, construction site manager of Angela Real Estate Co Ltd (ARE), told The Post that

  • Local media loses a giant, and The Post a great friend

    Cheang Sokha, a gifted and streetwise reporter who rose to the highest ranks of Cambodian media and was beloved for his sharp intelligence, world-class humour and endless generosity, died on Friday in his hometown of Phnom Penh. He was 42. His wife, Sok Sophorn, said he