The Philippines has garnered world attention for its deadly war against drugs that’s left 7,600 people dead in the last seven months since President Rodrigo Duterte took office. Now, the country’s military could join the bloodbath, making the situation all the more terrifying.
If you’re not familiar with Duterte, he became notorious as mayor of the coastal city of Davao for his reported backing of “Death Squads,” contract killers who spent years conducting extrajudicial killings of more than 1,400 suspected criminals, drug users and in some cases street children. The man even boasted about killing people himself, the Washington Post reported.
“In Davao, I used to do it personally. Just to show to the [police] that if I can do it, why can’t you?” he said. in December. “I [would] go around in Davao with a motorcycle… and I would just patrol the streets and looking for trouble also. I was really looking for an encounter to kill.”
It all sounds horrifying, but it made Duterte extremely popular, and in 2016 he was elected president on promises to kill even more criminals, because that’s the world we live in these days.
Now the defense ministry asked Duterte to issue an order allowing the military to play a role in his war on drugs, Reuters reports. Currently, the Philippine National Police is responsible for cracking down on the criminal drug trade. It is not exactly clear what role the military is asking to play, but it may have to do with the recent killing of a South Korean businessman at the hands of what is being described in a separate Reuters report as a rogue police drug squad; The chief of the PNP suspended anti-drug operations soon after.
During a speech to army generals Tuesday, the defense ministry said police officers from the PNP are “corrupt to the core” and that the nation needed the military’s help to reign in drug-related crime.
A report released by Amnesty International this week claims the country is engaging in state-sponsored extrajudicial killings of alleged drug dealers and that officers are being paid “per encounter” to supposedly rid the streets of drugs.
One senior officer told Amnesty International how the state incentivizes him to kill:
The police killings are driven by pressures from the top, including an order to “neutralize” alleged drug offenders, as well as financial incentives they have created an informal economy of death, the report details.
Speaking to Amnesty International, a police officer with the rank of Senior Police Officer 1, who has served in the force for a decade and conducts operations as part of an anti-illegal drugs unit in Metro Manila, described how the police are paid per “encounter” the term used to falsely present extrajudicial executions as legitimate operations.
“We always get paid by the encounter…The amount ranges from 8,000 pesos (US $161) to 15,000 pesos (US $302)… That amount is per head. So if the operation is against four people, that’s 32,000 pesos (US $644)… We’re paid in cash, secretly, by headquarters…There’s no incentive for arresting. We’re not paid anything.”
The chilling incentive to kill people rather than arrest them was underscored by the Senior Police Officer, who added: “It never happens that there’s a shootout and no one is killed.”
Perhaps the most devastating part of the report discusses how the police pay people to kill drug users, based on a list drawn up by the government:
More than 4,100 of the drug-related killings in the Philippines over the past six months have been carried out by unknown armed individuals. “Riding in tandem”, as the phenomenon is known locally, two motorcycle-borne people arrive, shoot their targets dead, and speed away.
Two paid killers told Amnesty International that they take orders from a police officer who pays them 5,000 pesos (US $100) for each drug user killed and 10,000 to 15,000 pesos (US $200-300) for each “drug pusher” killed. Before Duterte took power, the paid killers said, they had two “jobs” a month. Now, they have three or four a week.
This, as Amnesty International reports, is the work of the PNP. Could you imagine what kind of force a national army would wage against a civilian population? But Duterte clearly enjoys the death his policies are causing.
In an odd compromise, residents who fear dying in Duterte’s war on drugs are turning themselves in to police and signing pledges to never use drugs again. However, the government provides little help in the form of rehabilitation centers and drug rehabilitation counselors, according to a report by the New York Times. But even turning oneself in hasn’t protected people from facing harsh consequences. Some 15,000 people have been jailed, mostly after turning themselves in for using drugs.
What is happening in the Philippines is an extreme case of criminalizing a problem as apposed to medicalizing it. And it appears that people who seriously need help to get off drugs will likely face a bloody death by their country’s military.