May 19, 2024 (4:36 PM)

4 min read


Cartoon by Sean Anthony Penn Lacorte

Almost two years have passed since Former President Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte’s administration with ‘war on drugs’ as his signature brushstroke, which smothered blood on countless innocent lives of Filipinos. Following his father’s footsteps, Davao City Mayor Sebastian “Baste” Duterte recently announced on March 22, 2024 his own version of the ‘war on drugs’ in the city. The terror brought by the anti-drug campaign still hangs heavy in the air, yet Davaoeños are once again faced with this chilling prospect.

When Baste declared his campaign against drugs, he initially threatened drug suspects that he would kill them if they would not stop saying, “Kung hindi kayo aalis, kung hindi kayo titigil, papatayin ko kayo.” Although he has clarified that his intention was not to kill drug suspects, there has been a report that seven ‘nanlaban’ drug suspects were killed after his declaration. 

The Dutertes have long been successful in framing the drug war under the premise of ‘safety’ and ‘necessity’ that killings seem like a walk in the park. For the general citizenry, especially the Davaoeños who have been with the Dutertes for decades, it is difficult to question their approaches since they have been known to have iron fists and feisty, unfiltered mouths. The effective Duterte rhetoric that ‘it’s either you follow, or you will be killed’ strategy seeped through the Davaoeño culture, seeming like this is a non-negotiable we have to acknowledge in exchange for our safety. 

However, the shreds of evidence on the loss of thousands of lives in this bloody crusade against drugs point out that even if it is ‘necessary’ to ensure the safety of the city, Baste’s rhetorics should be feared rather than celebrated. Digong’s anti-drug campaign alone tallied over 12,000 deaths of Filipinos, who were mostly urban poor. If not for the checks and balances of human rights institutions and activists, we would be forced to think that killing is the only solution for drug suspects. Now, it seems like we are casted in a very similar film Digong once directed, where people eat reports of extrajudicial killings in the media for breakfast, and the Filipinos are left to wonder how much more blood from innocent lives will be shed.

Similar to his father, who denied the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) probe on the ‘war on drugs,’ Baste did not fail to carry his father’s torch of disempowering human rights institutions. The Commission on Human Rights conveyed ‘grave concern’ over Baste’s illegal drugs campaign, but Baste even challenged them to probe. Even President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos was called upon to investigate the campaign by Amnesty International, which the President has still not spoken about as of writing. Seeing how the efforts of human rights institutions felt like a mere pebble in the presence of a towering Goliath further reinforces that justice only serves those in power. Now that even the threat of another cycle of impunity was ignored by the President, we are left with a government that continues to be complicit in the human rights abuses that the Filipinos have long been enduring.

It is alarming how this culture of impunity has stretched and become more evident throughout the years. Yet, the authoritative bodies seem frozen in demanding accountability against these injustices. Despite having our human rights institutions delegitimized by authorities, Filipinos retain the power to demand accountability and work to break free from the cycle of violence. While a safe city remains the vision of comfort for everyone, the citizens must remain vigilant in scrutinizing the moral implications of the anti-drug campaign, lest we become a society blinding falling for an authoritarian regime. With this, our leaders must also stay proactive in instilling the sanctity of human rights and challenge the practices that violate them. 

The battle against drugs remains a pressing issue, but Filipinos should not be blinded by the extreme measures that have already violated one’s right to life just to be called a safe city. Standing tall against a culture of impunity might be a shot in the dark, but Filipinos can foster a safe environment through community support, rehabilitation, and compassion from the citizens rather than through a history of oppression and injustice.

This article was published in the April 2024 Tabloid Issue of Atenews. Read it here:

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