Over the last 15 months, more than 14,000 people, including several teenagers, have been killed in the drug war pushed by the President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte.
Two third of them were executed by masked vigilantes, sometimes completely wrapping the victims’ heads in packing tape, while one third were killed by the police allegedly during legal operations.
This is the dramatic record of Duterte’s bloody campaign. Obviously, a very large number of these killings happened in the slums near Manila and Quezon City. The victims were mostly poor people, drug addicts or small drug dealers. None of them was a big fish.
However, Duterte’s machos and flamboyant attitude is very popular in the country. Despite the evidences of the fortune stolen by Marcos’ family and staffers, most Filipinos believe that the end of the dictatorship has brought only corruption and crime. Talking to Filipinos taxi driver, many of them say that the Philippines are not ready for democracy. Duterte seems to know this widespread quite well and take advantage of the citizens’ disaffection towards politics. Democracy has not deliver the welfare they were hoping for. Now they have democracy and rule of law, but their living conditions have not changed. Paradoxically, the only ones benefitting from the country’s economic growth are few Filipino wealthy families still controlling the country. The same ones who were also close to Marcos. Duterte has openly supported the Marcos family and their rehabilitation. After his election, the coffin of the dictator has been buried with military honours at a heroes' cemetery. Last August, Duterte arrived to praise Marcos’ martial law. Having secured a 90% majority in the House of Representatives, Duterte has already announced his intention to modify the Constitution.
The only remaining constraints to his super-power are represented by the 24 senators, the Supreme Court and a few constitutional offices like the Commission on Human Rights or the National Ombudsman.
However, one of his main opponents in the Senate, senator Leila de Lima, a former justice minister and human rights commissioner, has been jailed since February 2017 on drug trafficking charges following allegations by some convicted criminals. Her trial has been continuously postponed while she waits in prison.
The new members of the Supreme Court are appointed by the President, who will soon arrive to control half of them. The Chair of the Commission on Human Rights is regularly attacked by Duterte and the Ombudsman is threatened by an impeachment proceeding.
Despite this worrying scenario, at the last APEC leader’ summit in Manila, Donald Trump openly praised his host and his war on drug. China and Russia compete to strengthen their cooperation with Manila and replace the US as its main ally. The EU seems preferring a low-profile after having being regularly scorned by Duterte’s offensive attacks. The only one breaking the silence and publicly advocating the respect of human rights in the Philippines was Canadian PM Justin Trudeau. An important move, but it is unlikely to stop Duterte without a stronger reaction by the international community.