The Washington Post Sunday

Duterte’s drug war still pop­u­lar amid deaths, con­tro­versy

Filipinos see crack­down as a cam­paign prom­ise kept, an­a­lysts say

- BY REGINE CABATO regine.cabato@wash­post.com Manila · Philippines · Oscar Albayalde · United Nations · United States of America · China · Beijing · United States Senate · Southeast Asia · Asia · Human Rights Watch · Internationaler Strafgerichtshof · Rodrigo Duterte · Social Weather Stations · Ateneo de Manila University · Ronald dela Rosa · Phil Robertson

MANILA — The Philip­pines’ war on drugs has killed thou­sands, drawn global con­dem­na­tion and en­meshed the po­lice force in scan­dal. Yet Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte’s bloody cam­paign is over­whelm­ingly pop­u­lar here.

The rea­sons are man­i­fold, but they hinge on Filipinos’ ap­par­ent will­ing­ness to over­look the death toll as long as Duterte’s gov­ern­ment sat­is­fies their in­di­vid­ual eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests, an­a­lysts say. The politi­cian promised to erad­i­cate crim­i­nals — “kill them all,” he said — and Filipinos ap­pear to view Duterte as keep­ing his word.

The coun­try’s po­lice chief re­signed this month over ac­cu­sa­tions that he al­lowed 13 of­fi­cers to re­sell con­fis­cated drugs and re­lease a cru­cial sus­pect. The chief, Os­car Al­bay­alde, de­nied the al­le­ga­tions, which date from his time as a pro­vin­cial com­man­der in 2013. In­ves­ti­ga­tors called for graft and drugs charges against him.

The con­tro­versy is a blow to the cred­i­bil­ity of the po­lice, invit­ing re­newed scru­tiny of the drug war. But ex­perts said it is un­likely to de­rail Duterte’s sig­na­ture pol­icy.

“The war on drugs has been syn­ony­mous with the pres­i­dent. They mu­tu­ally feed each other,” said Fran­cisco Ash­ley Acedillo, a for­mer law­maker. “Un­til one is un­done, the other will not be un­done.”

In Septem­ber, the gov­ern­ment cited an 82 per­cent sat­is­fac­tion rat­ing for the drug war in a So­cial Weather Sta­tions sur­vey as it pushed back on a U.N. res­o­lu­tion call­ing for the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions. Po­lice records show over 6,000 deaths in anti-drug op­er­a­tions, but hu­man rights watch­dogs count more than 20,000 oth­ers killed by un­known per­pe­tra­tors.

Polling re­leased last month put Duterte’s sat­is­fac­tion rat­ing at 78 per­cent, slightly be­low pre­vi­ous re­sults. The pres­i­dent en­joyed a higher rat­ing of “very good to ex­cel­lent” among wealth­ier Filipinos, but his pop­u­lar­ity among the poor­est re­spon­dents has de­creased.

On the cam­paign trail, Duterte di­ag­nosed drugs as the scourge of so­ci­ety, claim­ing their use was con­nected with rape and mur­der. The nar­ra­tive struck a chord with his sup­port­ers, pro­pel­ling him to vic­tory in 2016 elec­tions. (Of­fi­cials in 2015 es­ti­mated there were 1.8 mil­lion drug users in the Philip­pines.)

Duterte was the only can­di­date who of­fered a so­lu­tion to the preva­lence of drugs, a long­time frus­tra­tion among the ur­ban poor, said Jen­nifer Oreta, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal science at Ate­neo de Manila Univer­sity.

But the crack­down tar­gets the poor­est cit­i­zens while sat­is­fy­ing the mid­dle class and over­seas Filipinos who are piv­otal in de­ter­min­ing elec­tion out­comes, Oreta said.

For Maria, who lost a brother and fa­ther to the drug war in 2016, the shake-up among se­nior po­lice is “just right.” She asked to be iden­ti­fied by only her first name for safety rea­sons.

Plain­clothes po­lice killed her fa­ther when they stormed her house past mid­night in a slum north of Manila, she said. He was listed as one of the deaths in po­lice op­er­a­tions. As she read­ied his fu­neral ar­range­ments the next day, her brother’s body was wheeled in, cov­ered in pack­ag­ing tape.

“Some peo­ple are scared to talk be­cause [Duterte] is still sit­ting in power. But when he’s gone, they’ll come out,” Maria said.

So far, Duterte has emerged rel­a­tively un­scathed even when he has taken po­si­tions at odds with pub­lic sen­ti­ment, no­tably his turn away from the United States and pivot to­ward China.

Polls show that Filipinos dis­trust Bei­jing — which as­serts sovereignt­y over wa­ters claimed by the Philip­pines — but per­haps not enough to bother ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties that stand to ben­e­fit from Chi­nese in­fra­struc­ture loans. When Duterte ap­peared to side with Bei­jing af­ter a Chi­nese trawler sank a Philip­pine fish­ing boat, his pop­u­lar­ity was largely un­af­fected.

While cozy­ing up to China, Duterte has raised salaries for the armed forces, ef­fec­tively buy­ing the ac­qui­es­cence of a group that had ex­pressed con­cerns about Bei­jing’s ex­pan­sion in the South China Sea, se­nior mil­i­tary of­fi­cials have said.

Sev­eral scan­dals have rocked the po­lice force dur­ing his term. In 2016, au­thor­i­ties re­vealed that a kid­napped South Korean na­tional was killed in po­lice head­quar­ters, and his ashes flushed down a toi­let. The killing of 17year-old Kian De­los San­tos the fol­low­ing year led to the only con­vic­tion of po­lice of­fi­cers in a drug-war-re­lated killing.

How­ever, the head of the po­lice then, Ron­ald dela Rosa, went on to win a seat in the Se­nate, hav­ing won over vot­ers by par­tic­i­pat­ing in game shows and us­ing a mas­cot to poke fun at him­self.

Acedillo, the for­mer con­gress­man, said the Philip­pines’ in­sti­tu­tions are of­ten per­son­al­ity-driven, help­ing to ex­plain the ap­peal of strong­man-style lead­ers.

But not all Filipinos sup­port the way Duterte has pros­e­cuted the drug war.

Amnesty In­ter­na­tional cites pre­vi­ous sur­veys show­ing that Filipinos fear for their fam­i­lies’ lives and pre­fer due process over sum­mary ex­e­cu­tions.

“While sur­veys would show that many Filipinos ap­pear to sup­port the anti-drug cam­paign as a way to tackle crime, they also show the pub­lic have se­ri­ous, grow­ing con­cerns,” said Nicholas Be­quelin, Amnesty’s di­rec­tor for East and South­east Asia and the Pa­cific. “Af­ter scan­dal upon scan­dal, the mood seems to be shift­ing.”

Phil Robert­son, deputy di­rec­tor of Hu­man Rights Watch’s Asia divi­sion, calls Duterte’s con­tin­ued pop­u­lar­ity “a mys­tery” and all the more rea­son for in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tions to step in to stem the car­nage.

The In­ter­na­tional Criminal Court is prob­ing killings in the Philip­pines, prompt­ing Duterte to re­tal­i­ate by with­draw­ing the coun­try’s mem­ber­ship.

But in the ab­sence of more­force­ful ex­ter­nal in­ter­ven­tion, ex­perts say, the drug war’s toll shows no sign of eas­ing.

“The op­er­a­tion has taken a life of its own,” said Oreta, the po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist. “It won’t stop just be­cause there’s con­tro­versy on top.”

 ?? ALAN TANGCAWAN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IM­AGES ?? The body of slain Clarin Mayor David Navarro is seen cov­ered af­ter he and his po­lice es­cort were am­bushed in Cebu, Philip­pines, on Fri­day. Navarro had been tagged by Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte as a “narco-politi­cian,” and his death was an­other ca­su­alty of the drug war.
ALAN TANGCAWAN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IM­AGES The body of slain Clarin Mayor David Navarro is seen cov­ered af­ter he and his po­lice es­cort were am­bushed in Cebu, Philip­pines, on Fri­day. Navarro had been tagged by Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte as a “narco-politi­cian,” and his death was an­other ca­su­alty of the drug war.
 ?? CARL COURT/BLOOMBERG NEWS ?? Duterte and his daugh­ter ar­rive for Em­peror Naruhito’s en­throne­ment rites at the Im­pe­rial Palace in Tokyo on Tues­day.
CARL COURT/BLOOMBERG NEWS Duterte and his daugh­ter ar­rive for Em­peror Naruhito’s en­throne­ment rites at the Im­pe­rial Palace in Tokyo on Tues­day.

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