Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s ruthless and bloody drug war — which began the day the strongman and former mayor took office last July — is steadily worsening.
As many as 12,000 people have been killed over the past 15 months, many of them dead at the hands of police or government vigilantes. Observers — including survivors and witnesses — say cops are conducting extrajudicial killings, murdering drug users or petty dealers in the street and in their homes. Police say that the dead are killed after violently resisting arrest.
Either way, Duterte condones the violence — proudly and publicly. “That’s good,” Duterte said in August, after the single bloodiest day of the conflict to date. (Among the dead was a local mayor, who Duterte had placed on a public list of “suspects.”) “If we can only kill 32 every day, then maybe we can reduce what ails this country.”
Lawmakers aligned with Duterte are aiming to do just that. In budget moves this month, legislators voted to slash funding for drug rehabilitation, end the independent investigation into the killings, all while increasing funding for police by more than 40 times.
As Reuters reported, the proposal to cut funding for drug rehabilitation by 75 percent would spell disaster. In a county of 100 million, fewer than 50,000 people received treatment for drug-abuse problems in 2016. As many as 3 million people in the country are drug users, Duterte has said. Meanwhile, increasing the police’s budget by 40 times would guarantee a far larger police presence — one big enough to make a serious dent in the remaining 3 million people.
In a separate move, legislators aligned with Duterte have given the agency tasked with investigating the drug war a mere 1,000 pesos — or about $20 — down from its current budget of 749 million pesos.
Along with the Catholic Church and a parade of international drug-policy and human-rights organizations, the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights has been one of the main critics of Duterte’s lengthy and increasingly deadly drug war. Slashing its budget to next to nothing — a “reprehensible” act, according to the United Nations’ special envoy investigating the killings —is a hamfisted vindictive move that Duterte allies didn’t even bother to veil.
In the recent past, Duterte had vehemently criticized the commission and threatened to abolish it. “If you want to protect the rights of criminals, get your budget from the criminals,” said House speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, a key Duterte ally, according to the Guardian.“It’s that simple.”
Duterte is a populist strongman who bears strong resemblance to Donald Trump in thought and words, if not yet deeds. In leaked transcripts, the American president offered warm praise for Duterte’s oversight of the bloody conflict. In Trump’s estimation, Duterte is “doing an unbelievable job,” said the president, who invited Duterte to visit the White House.
Duterte rebuffed the invitation, calling the U.S. “lousy.” That’s a dis, but it shouldn’t steer attention away from Trump “essentially endor[sing]”the killings. Trump is “morally complicit” in future deaths, flabbergasted human-rights organizations said — and after these latest moves by Duterte allies to make the war easier to wage with fewer oversight, there will absolutely be more. Many, many more.
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