Death Reigns On the Streets Of Duterte’s Philippines
Up the muddy lane, police officers climb a flight of concrete stairs to a narrow corridor where there is a fresh body–one of at least five people summarily executed in Manila on this night, Dec. 7, five more killed in Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s relentless war on drugs. The residences within Manila’s slums are stacked haphazardly on top of one another, affording little privacy, but the man’s neighbors did not come out to look when they heard the gunshot–maybe to avoid trouble, maybe because they’re used to this by now.
Since Duterte took office in late June, more than 6,000 people have been killed in his campaign to purge the Philippines of illegal drugs and those associated with them, according to reliable estimates by local media. The victims–suspected users and pushers–do not enjoy due process, and they are always killed at night, sometimes inside their own homes. The perpetrators are vigilantes, hired guns and likely cops too. Duterte made no secret that this would happen. “All of you who are into drugs, you sons of bitches, I will really kill you,” he said last April, a month before he was elected. It wasn’t just campaign bluster. For 22 years Duterte had served as mayor of the southern city of Davao, where he took a pathological approach to restoring order to the city’s streets. Under his leadership, the extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals and drug users in Davao by vigilantes was practically state policy. In December, speaking to a group of businesspeople, Duterte admitted to personally killing a few himself while he was mayor. The reaction of the international community has been one of outrage and reproach: Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said on Dec. 20 that Duterte should be investigated for murder; on the same day, folk-music legend James Taylor said he had canceled his February concert in Manila.
But many Filipinos take a utilitarian approach to the war on drugs: killing is bad, but a society tainted by drugs and crime is worse. About 77% of Filipinos are satisfied with Duterte’s performance, according to a poll conducted in December. On the dating app Tinder, some Filipino women have overlaid their profile pictures with “I’m a Filipino, and my President is Duterte!”
More From TIME Magazine: