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Examining Trust Inside Duterte’s Drug War

Examining Trust Inside Duterte’s Drug War

Since taking office, President Rodrigo Duterte has been condemned by foreign bodies and human rights organizations on his unrestrained use of profanities, and his disregard for violation of international human rights clauses in his war against drugs. Yet, these criticisms seem to have little effect on dampening nationalistic support for Duterte. In a recent survey conducted by Pulse Asia Research, President Rodrigo Duterte reached a historic trust rating of 91% in July. Although it has fallen to 86% in September, such high approval ratings is still an impressive feat, considering that ratings were consistent across socioeconomic classes and geographic areas. The consensus of the masses in Philippines is intriguing, for their favorability is a significant deviation from the disapprovals of international organizations such as the United Nations, and Philippines’ close ally, United States of America. Conceivably, the high trust ratings are an indication that Rodrigo Duterte could be exactly what Philippines needs in reducing organized crime and corruption, thus establishing fertile grounds for inclusive economic growth.

Refreshing Authenticity and Proven Track Record

Duterte’s impressive track record during his term serving as a mayor at Davao, together with his candor, are some of the factors that lead to Filipinos’ trust in him. Not only did he set up the first 911 emergency response center in the Philippines, next to a Public Safety and Security command center that monitors suspicious activities on camera, Duterte also established a center for victims of domestic violence, and development and welfare codes for women and children. Apart from setting up new facilities, he also imposed new anti-littering ordinance, a ban on smoking in public and a curfew for minors. These rules and regulations helped to lower crime rates by 75%, and raised methamphetamine costs to almost twice as much in Davao City because of risks faced by drug sellers. In crime-weary Philippines, Duterte’s iron-clad ruling on crime and drugs, coupled with his emphasis on improving safety measures for women and children, garnered much support from Filipinos, in hope that Davao City’s success would be duplicated nationwide. Backed by his dedication to the welfare of his city, Duterte’s curses, and his offensive remarks against the UN, EU, and US are thus viewed as personable, authentic, and trustworthy, for they portray a fatherly figure protecting the self-interests of Philippines. 

Declaring Drug War on Curbing Organized Crime and Corruption

“Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now, there are three million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them.” Unsurprisingly, Duterte’s comparison of the killing of drug addicts and dealers to the Nazi regime against Jews drew international outrage. Later, he apologized for his remarks. If these remarks are not disconcerting, reports on extrajudicial killings of drug dealers and addicts most certainly are. According to Time magazine, more than 3000 killings have taken place.oughly 1,506 people were killed in police operations while the rest are still under investigation, suspected to be a result of killings by vigilantes inspired by Duterte. However, Kris Ablan, assistant secretary at the Presidential Communications Office, warned against categorizing the killings as extrajudicial, for most of the police killings are claimed to be as a result of self-defense and gang violence. 

Although claims of extrajudicial killings are disturbing, Ablan is right in that the quick jump to conclusion may discount the difficulty in implementing measures needed to clamp down on the entrenched drug trade that only exists with polarity of wealth and authority. A harsh rule with outward display of real consequences may be what is necessary to become a successful deterrent to the higher authorities who were used to a system that tolerated bribes, and to the impoverished who were lured to drug dealing due to attractive astronomical profits. In August, Duterte added at least 1,000 public officials to a list of individuals suspected of links to the drug trade, including judges, police, mayors and governors. Only by establishing the rule that no one is above the law, will the judicial system work. 

Plight of the Commoners

Regrettably, what worked in Davao City may not produce the same sustainable results when replicated on a large-scale level. Rehabilitation efforts are significantly underfunded, and considering many of these men turned to drug trade in desperate times, their loss of jobs and captivity in prison could have disproportionate and devastating effects on their families, especially if they are sole breadwinners. Conditions for prisoners are also horrendous, for the prisons are grossly overcrowded, with as manly as 3,800 inmates housed in a capacity meant for 60. In a sense, the war on drugs is as much as a war on the poor. 

Balancing Act

Like the rest of the world, many Filipinos are adopting a wait-and-see attitude. Many are willing to turn a blind eye, for they see the killings as a necessary evil in creating a safe community. The notion of fear is removed, as the public is reassured by Duterte’s promise of safety for law-abiding citizens. Understandably, rights for drug dealers and addicts, which international human rights organizations advocate for, thus comes as a privilege that citizens are willing to forgo. Therefore, Duterte’s war against drugs has far-fetching implications that go beyond the act of curbing drug trade itself. It represents the potential to reform judicial system, introduce political stability, attract foreign investment, and propel Philippines into economic prosperity that many have long yearned for. Of course, Duterte also needs to ensure education, healthcare and employment conditions are not neglected with the relocation of funds to lower crime rates. These are not easy issues to tackle, but the Filipinos have trust, and more importantly, hope, for a better future under Duterte’s administration.  

- Lanxin Jiang