March 23, 2019 | 30° F

LANDINGIN: Philippines’ drug war does not justify extra-judicial killings

Opinions Column: A Sophisticated Tho(ugh)t


The newly elected president of the Philippines has come into Western media’s spotlight for his brash behavior and his strong ­handed “war on drugs” campaign and policies in order to clean up the Philippines. Many even call him the Philippines' Donald Trump. According to Rishi Iyengar’s Time article, President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign has so far claimed more than 2,400 extra­judicial killings of alleged drug users and drug dealers since the start of his presidency over a month ago.

Furthermore, after getting world­wide attention for human rights violations under his presidency, in addition to his response to it with an “I don’t care about human rights” statement, Duterte proves to be a difficult politician to pinpoint to the political left or right.

On one hand, he presents himself as a president who identifies with the lower class, hailing from the underrepresented southern region of Mindanao, a criticizer of the country’s crony capitalism and an outspoken criticizer of U.S. imperialism. On the other hand, his solution to the country’s problems is a presidency that uses the war on drugs as a scapegoat to the structural issues in Philippine government that hampers development.

Like many former colonies in the global South, the Philippines is in a post­industrial arms race where developing countries are forced to cut corners and pull whatever resources they have to win in the neoliberal world stage.

In this case, Duterte’s campaign against crime and drugs are these quick fixes that disregard the issues that result from the country’s colonial history. The killings of alleged drug users and dealers — the front men of the drug economy — also serves as an analogy of how this authoritarian-leaning regime merely imposes an undirected post­colonial rage at the fruits of colonialism, rather than focusing on structures colonizers left behind and inhibit the country’s progress.

The people of the Philippines are desperate for change and they are ready to ride the fast­-paced neoliberal wave and benefit from the growing wealth in Asia, such as the kind of progress and economic fertility of their neighboring countries such as South Korea and Singapore.

And this is what makes Duterte’s presidency peculiar and some­what unbelievable. Disregarding Duterte’s reputation for his emotional and foul­mouthed remarks, similar to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s, he unabashedly throws back the criticisms of human rights violations under his regime by calling out the hypocrisy of the U.N. and the U.S. on the war in Syria and racialized police brutality by basically saying that they shouldn’t dare to tell how to run his country when they also have blood on their hands. With an anti-­imperialistic remark, Duterte states that, “I am not beholden to Obama, my master is the Filipino people.”

With statements like this, it is not surprising that he receives a 91 percent trust rating from the Filipino people on a July poll. This shows how his recent actions undermine the nature of a democratic society, but are highly defended in a Filipino collectivist culture that is willing for a strong ­hand to shape up the country.

The conflict arises between the definitions of what it means for the Philippines to progress. Filipinos are aware of the way centuries worth of colonialism resulting in a state full of oligarchs.

It was a state run by the richest families, many of which were mestizos of many kinds, such as Chinese­-Filipino and Spanish-Filipino people that own most of the Philippines' land and the businesses — a state that was crippled from U.S. policies as a result of the United States’ desire to hold onto its interest in Asia’s economic growth.

The Philippine economy has been crippled for centuries as a result of the colonial extraction of its vast natural resources. The Filipino people know their worth as a hard­working society with a strong­ work force that is capable of adapting a cosmopolitan attitude and image. Many have gone on to become overseas workers and become a force in the gendered, emotional labor in home­ care, patient care and education for the benefit of their Western masters.

However, the Philippines is still wrought with poor infrastructures, rising poverty and a slow-­moving and corrupt bureaucratic system that people are fed up with. They are so fed up that many are quick to defend unjustified killings of human lives, because it promises that getting rid of the undesirables of Filipino society would lead to an economic prosperity.

When narco-­politics, poverty and a crippling economy contributes to the poor quality of life and slow deaths of the majority of Filipinos, is 2,400 lives of alleged criminals worth it?

Rae Landingin is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies with minors in art history and digital, communication, information and media. Her column, “A Sophisticated Tho(ugh)t,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.

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Rae Landingin

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