What You Should Know About the Philippines’ Human Rights Crisis

Last week, a lawyer in the Philippines filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court against Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines, for crimes against humanity.


The attorney who filed the claim is representing an assassin who last year testified against President Duterte. He accused Duterte of ordering deaths while he was still mayor of Davao City. Duterte did this by maintaining  a team called “death squads” that would carry out these killings.


Although the claims are shocking, it is unfortunately not a surprise based off of what we know about Duterte from his time as mayor of Davao City. Duterte, Never shy about expressing his unique, and sometimes disturbing thoughts – has said some very colorful things to the press that have made headlines throughout the world. In his final campaign rally before becoming president, Duterte had this to say about how he’d handle the issue of illegal drugs in his country:


“Forget the laws on human rights. If I make it to the presidential palace, I will do just what I did as mayor. You drug pushers, hold-up men and do-nothings, you better go out. Because I’d kill you, I’ll dump all of you into Manila Bay, and fatten all the fish there.”


To add to what he would do to drug offenders, Duterte also said the following during a rambling speech once he was already elected president:


“Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now, there are three million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them.”


Aside from his colorful words, critics are more concerned over the senseless violence that has occurred during his time as president. According to the non-profit organization Human Rights Watch (HRW),  7,000 murders of suspected drug-dealers and users have taken place since Duterte was elected into office on June 20th of 2016. Police claimed responsibility for 2,690 of the murders, but the HRW has found that most of the 3,271 killings attributed to ‘vigilantes’ are actually  covers. It was done so the authorities wouldn’t get in trouble for these “death squad” type of killings that they conducted themselves.


Duterte’s brutal “War on drugs” campaign did not begin when he reached the presidential palace. While mayor of Davao City from 1988 to 2015, the HRW estimates that 1,424 “death squad” killings occurred in his city. What’s even more concerning is that Duterte bragged about carrying out some of the killings himself.


“In Davao I used to do it personally. Just to show to the guys [police] that if I can do it why can’t you? I’d go around in Davao with a motorcycle, with a big bike around, and I would just patrol the streets, looking for trouble also. I was really looking for a confrontation so I could kill.”


Aside from crimes against humanity for murder, Duterte’s  “War on drugs” campaign has also led to another crisis that is occurring in the Philippines prison centers.


Just a few weeks after becoming president, over 600,000 drug users and offenders turned themselves in to the authorities over fear that they might be the next victim of the killing spree. Because of the massive amount of people who have turned themselves in, prisons in the Philippines are extremely overcrowded, Leaving the prisoners to fend for themselves in terrifying conditions. The HRW has noted that most of these prisons fail to meet the minimum requirement set by the United Nations due to the fact that they fail to provide an adequate amount of food, nutrition and sanitation.


The most disturbing example has come from the prison in Quezon City, where over 4,000 prisoners are packed into 30,000 square feet. Reporters were allowed in last year to take a look and the images produced are disturbing.

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Despite the fact that there are blatant human rights violations occurring in the Philippines under the rule of Rodrigo Duterte, there doesn’t seem to be a high possibility of any change occurring while he’s in charge. Duterte has swiftly denounced all of his critics and even jailed a sitting Senator, Leila de Lima, for allegedly running a drug trafficking ring. She was detained even though the charges are yet to be proven in court and the only evidence comes from allegations made by convicted drug lords.


Although there’s been some resistance by the opposition group in the Philippines, they will likely have to wait until the next presidential election before they can have Duterte removed from power, which isn’t until the summer of 2020.


Despite the international outrage, Duterte’s approval ratings at home remain at a surprisingly high 76 percent. Observers in the West and human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch will be closely observing the situation in the Philippines.


They’ll be waiting to see if Duterte will continue with his campaign of mass killings and arrests of drug users throughout the remainder of his term.

Daniel Alonso is the founder and contributor of Politicsay. Daniel graduated from Florida International University with a double major in Political Science and International Relations, as well as a certificate in National Security Studies. Daniel focuses on American Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, and Human Rights Issues.

Daniel Alonso