The reality of President Rodrigo Duterte's brutal war on drugs

By news.com.au

Rodrigo Duterte is outspoken about cracking down on criminals, but how much direct involvement does he have in the killings? Photo / AP
Rodrigo Duterte is outspoken about cracking down on criminals, but how much direct involvement does he have in the killings? Photo / AP

Earlier this week, the President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, delivered one of his most brutal threats yet against drug criminals.

Addressing local chief executives, Duterte said those engaged in the drug trade must resign from their shady business dealings or face imminent murder.

"I will really tell them: 'Look for your name in the narco-list. Son of a wh*re, if your name is there, you have a problem. I will really kill you,'" he said.

"I might go down in the history as the butcher. It's up to you.

"Either you resign or make a clean break of everything, come up with clean nose and we'll talk."

According to The New York Times, The Punisher has a list of more than a million drug dealers and corrupt officials on watch.

While it's unknown just how many people he intends to kill, he once gave a speech saying that the Philippines was home to "three million drug addicts", and that he'd be "happy to slaughter them".

But what exactly is the Punisher's "list", and how does a person get on it?

Inside The Punisher's Criminal Hit List

Allegations of The Punisher's direct involvement in the murder of drug criminals dates back to his years as the mayor of Davao, a city in the Southern Philippines.

According to a 2009 Human Rights Watch report, Mr Duterte was linked to the Davao Death Squads (DDS), which were responsible for executing petty criminals and drug dealers.

Human rights groups estimate the DDS was responsible for the murders or disappearances of between 1020 and 1040 people between 1998 and 2008.

The report said police officers would give death squad members lists of names of people to kill.

Authorities would largely turn a blind eye, and investigations would prove pointless.

A 2009 UN report criticised Mr Duterte for allegedly encouraging the executions, saying: "The mayor of Davao city has done nothing to prevent these killings, and his public comments suggest that he is, in fact, supportive."

Alleged Filipino drug lord Kerwin Espinosa, center, listens to a question as he is presented to the media by Philippine National Police Chief Gen. Photo / AP
Alleged Filipino drug lord Kerwin Espinosa, center, listens to a question as he is presented to the media by Philippine National Police Chief Gen. Photo / AP

In 2012, the Commission on Human Rights called for an official investigation into Duterte's alleged links to the squads, but no evidence was ever found, and officials continue to deny the squads as fictional products of the media.

To this day, he denies the existence of such "squads".

Since The Punisher's rise to power in June last year, it's estimated over 5000 people have been killed in his violent war on drugs, prompting an outcry from the international community.

He keeps a list of names of suspected drug criminals, telling them to turn themselves in or risk death at the hands of the police.

The Times estimates there are over a million people on the list, and these people can consider themselves dead men walking unless they turn themselves in and confess.

Grecel Sagpang, a station commander with the Philippine National Police, told the Times the lists are largely compiled through the use of informants.

He said police rely on anyone from local politicians to poor squatters to tell them who should be on the list.

"A confidential informant came, to say drugs are very prevalent in such-and-such area," he said. "We have to dig deeper. We deploy detectives and intelligence operatives" to verify that "Mr. So-and-So is fiddling drugs in the community."

In October last year, a senior policeman who claimed to be involved in the killings gave a chilling account of how the police go about murdering suspects.

Speaking to The Guardian anonymously, he said he was part of one of 10 highly secretive special operations teams tasked with executing a list of suspected criminals.

He claimed officers would be briefed by team leaders using a special code, and given a personal file of drug criminals to "neutralise".

Officers might receive a picture of the suspect, and the team would then investigate the individual to determine what they were involved in.

When it came to the killing, officers dressed in plain clothes would set their watches giving themselves only a minute or so to remove individuals from their houses and kill them on the spot - usually at night.

The bodies would then be dumped in the next town or under a bridge, sometimes with a sign reading "drug lord" or "pusher".

"We put placards in order for the media, in order for those investigating bodies to redirect their investigation," he told The Guardian.

It's estimated that there are over a million suspects on the President's hit list. Photo / AP
It's estimated that there are over a million suspects on the President's hit list. Photo / AP

He said this leads them to think: "Why should I investigate this guy? He is a drug pusher, he is a rapist, never mind with that one, I will just investigate the others. It's a good thing for him that happened to him."

He insisted the murders are in the public interest, therefore the officers are not committing sins. To the contrary, he said they are there as "angels".

"We are the kind of policemen that we don't just kill for pleasure," the officer said.

"But if we think this is a hardened individual or hardened criminal who makes his living as a parasite to others, well we will have no conscience. We are going to give him the worst death (so) that even Satan cannot look straightforward to him because he has a very bad death."

Duterte's rhetoric on these killings is contradictory. On one hand, he has denied the involvement of the police or designated groups of killers.

Yet he's openly vowed to murder so many drug dealers that "the fish will grow fat" from eating their corpses.

Shortly after his election in June, he openly encouraged his countrymen to shoot and kill drug dealers, saying: "Please feel free to call us, the police, or do it yourself if you have the gun - you have my support.

"If a drug dealer resists arrest or refuses to be brought to a police station and threatens a citizen with a gun or a knife, you can kill him ... Shoot him and I'll give you a medal."

As a result, police say more than 2000 people who have been killed by officers were taken down as a matter of self-defence during anti-drug operations.

Another 3,060 killings have been classified as "under investigation".

While Duterte has systematically denied that the rising number of extrajudicial killings in the country is state-sponsored, Philippine senators have called on the controversial leader to act within the bounds of the law, and to punish police officers who commit the murders.

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, right, and Fr. Robert Reyes wear masks with slogans as they join a protest against alleged extra judicial killings in Manila, Philippines. Photo / AP
Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, right, and Fr. Robert Reyes wear masks with slogans as they join a protest against alleged extra judicial killings in Manila, Philippines. Photo / AP

"The war against illegal drugs must be won within the legal system, and the president must lead in reminding the people of this important message," they senators said in a December report after conducting an inquiry into extrajudicial killings.

How Do Filipino's Feel About The Killings?

Despite all the murders, Duterte's tough stance was widely credited with his successful election.

More than six months later, his popularity reminds high, with Social Weather Stations polling showing that 73 per cent of adult Filipinos are satisfied with his leadership, compared with a dissatisfaction rate of just 12 per cent.

Despite global condemnation of the effects of his drug war, "promoting human rights", "fighting crimes" and "helping the poor" were among the things Filipinos were most satisfied with in the Duterte administration.

Despite this, 78 per cent of the country is worried that they or a family member will be the victim of an extrajudicial killing, with 94 per cent saying it's important that drug suspects be captured alive.

But international pressure has proved ineffective.

He most notably responded to the Obama administration's criticism of his murderous crackdown by labelling the President a "son of a wh*re".

At this rate, global condemnation of the drug war will likely continue to fall on deaf ears.

- news.com.au

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