Alex Corvadt – Political correspondent
The Philippines new President, Rodrigo Duterte, has begun his controversial new government as promised. The hard-line new leader lived up to his local nickname as “The Punisher”, doing little to discourage the deaths and violence incited by his inauguration. In the space of a week of taking power, at least 100 people linked to drug use and distribution were dead as police and civilians across the country took up his call to “go ahead and kill” them.
“These sons of whores are destroying our children. I warn you, don’t go into that, even if you’re a policeman, because I will really kill you.”
His shocking message seems to be working though – local media is reporting that hundreds of drug addicts and dealers have surrendered to authorities while there is still an amnesty, concerned that they too would be killed in the police crackdown or civilian witch-hunts.
“The drug menace must stop. Yet the apparent serial summary executions of alleged street-drug users or petty-drug lords, which appear sudden, too contrived and predictable, must also stop,”- Edre Olalia, head of a Manila based Law group
A Wild West
The new administration has set a worrying new precedent in the country of almost 100 million people. Years of violent crime and frustration at the levels of drug proliferation across the country have allowed Mr. Duterte to seize the Presidency thanks to his black and white stance towards both – continue to do so at the risk of your own life. This, however, presents a clear erosion to civil rights such as that of a fair trial. It also encourages vigilantism that begs the question of who decides who the “bad guys” are and if these killings are even justified.
During Mr. Dutarte’s highly publicized election campaign, he has done little to hide his agenda. Speaking to a gathering of police in Manila, he told them to “go ahead and kill” drug dealers, and that if there was a problem that they would find support from his administration for their actions.
Controversially, the police seem to back Mr. Dutarte’s policy – the Headquarters in Manila has already confirmed that it will even have an electronic bill board keeping a running tally of suspects arrested and “neutralised” (killed) during operations.
“We fear an erosion of the rule of law. Once that happens, the Philippines will become a Wild West and become totally ungovernable” – Wilnor Papa, campaign coordinator for Amnesty International’s Philippine office
He has told the police he is not afraid of being impeached by Congress while fighting crime, and assured officers he would protect them if they kill large numbers of people while cracking down on lawlessness.”Do your duty,” Mr Duterte told an audience of police officers. “If in the process you kill 1,000 persons because you were doing your duty … I will protect you, and if they will try to impeach me, I will hurry up the process and we go out of the service together.”
The uneasy path forwards
For all his faults, it is undeniable that for now at least, the hard-line approach to drug use is working. The cost, however, remains to be seen. The slide towards a disregard for civil liberties for short-term gains presents a dangerous path. And if Mr Dutarte continues to favour such knee-jerk solutions for systemic problems, the future of the Philippines is grim indeed.
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