drug regulation

The rising body count of the Philippines’ ‘war on drugs’

The Philippines is seeing a surge of extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals and drug users since Rodrigo Duterte assumed office last month.

Here’s a snapshot of what a coalition of Philippines human rights groups describes as a “surge of extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals and drug offenders”.

2.50 am July 14: Unidentified drug suspect #43 | San Juan City, Metro Manila | Found dead, hogtied, face wrapped with packaging tape and with eight sachets of suspected shabu [crystal meth] strapped to the body

5 am July 13: Evangeline Tan, suspected drug user but not on the city’s drug watch list | Dasmariñas City, Cavite | Found dead, body full of stab wounds and hands tied with an electric cord; found on the body was a paper saying, “Wag tularan, tulak ako (Do not imitate, I’m a drug pusher).”

Those fatality reports are from the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s twice-weekly “Kill List”, which tallies the killings of suspected drug dealers and users by police and unidentified vigilantes.

The “Kill List” records a “marked and unmistakable” rise in such killings amounting to 265 deaths between June 30, the day President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office, and July 18.

Official statistics support assertions of an alarming increase in police killings of drug-related criminal suspects. Philippines National Police data indicates that police killed at least 192 such criminal suspects between May 10 and July 10.

That death toll in the two months following Duterte’s electoral victory dwarfs the 68 killings of suspects that police recorded during “anti-drug operations” between January 1 and June 15.

Police have attributed the killings to suspects who “resisted arrest and shot at police officers”, but have not provided further evidence that they acted in self-defence.

Duterte’s rhetoric

The Duterte administration has not put forward any policy proposals on criminal justice or crime control. He has been in office less than one month.

But the government’s rhetorical stance on the upsurge in police killings of criminal suspects shows that the disregard Duterte showed for Philippine law and international human rights standards during his campaign has become the presidential reality.

He had told his supporters on the election trail:

If I make it to the presidential palace…you drug pushers, hold-up men and do-nothings, you better get out because I’ll kill you.

At a pre-election campaign rally he promised a supportive crowd the mass killings of tens of thousands of “criminals”, whose bodies he would dump in Manila Bay.

At his inauguration, Duterte identified illegal drugs as one of the country’s top problems and vowed his government’s anti-drug battle “will be relentless and it will be sustained”.

Now in office, Duterte has praised the killings as proof of the “success” of the anti-drug campaign and urged police to “seize the momentum“.

Against check and balances

After calls for a Senate probe of those killings, the Philippine National Police chief, Director-General Ronald dela Rosa, on July 11 slammed these as “legal harassment” and said it “dampens the morale” of PNP officers.

That same day, Duterte’s top judicial official, Solicitor-General Jose Calida, defended the legality of the killings and opined that the number of such deaths was “not enough”.

The Philippine National Police will soon make it easier for Calida to track the number of those killings. On July 18 it announced plans to erect outside the Philippine National Police’s Manila headquarters a large electronic billboard that will provide an updated tally of drug suspects either arrested or “neutralised” by police.

Complicit in serious crimes

Official statements calling for what is effectively the extrajudicial killing of criminal suspects could make the officials responsible complicit in serious crimes. And an unwillingness to investigate alleged unlawful killings would be dereliction of duty.

There are already indications that some local politicians have taken inspiration from some of Duterte’s rhetoric during his election and enacted potentially abusive “anti-crime” measures.

Days after Duterte’s May 10 electoral victory, the mayor-elect of Cebu City in the central Philippines, Tomas Osmeña, announced he would pay a 50,000 peso ($1,080) bounty for each “criminal” killed by his police force. Osmeña didn’t specify how police would determine the legality of such killings or the identity of the suspects.

The most sinister articulation of this approach has been the rise of “death squads” in cities in the southern Philippines linked to local police and government officials.

Human Rights Watch exposed in a 2009 report the operations of a death squad that operated in Davao City with the support of city officials and police. Hundreds of people deemed to be “undesirables” – petty criminals, drug dealers and street children as young as 14 – were killed.

Duterte, who served as Davao City’s mayor for 22 years, publicly applauded such killings.

There have been no prosecutions related to the Davao death squad operations and a federal inquiry was called off. There is evidence that the Davao death squad inspired a similar operation in the nearby municipality of Tagum City. This was linked to hundreds of killings and operated as a salaried arm of the municipal government.

Eroding the rule of law

In his inauguration speech, Duterte pledged that his “adherence to due process and the rule of law is uncompromising”. The gruesome daily toll of police killings of criminal suspects demands that he deliver on that promise.

Duterte needs to demonstrate his commitment to due process and rule of law. He should urgently order a credible and independent inquiry into those deaths.

The government needs to make clear that the human rights protections embodied in the constitution apply to all the people of the Philippines – even those that police may consider “criminals”.

Phelim Kine, Adjunct Professor, Roosevelt Public Policy Institute at Hunter College, City University of New York.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Relying on the power of habits to solve India’s mammoth sanitation problem

Adopting three simple habits can help maximise the benefits of existing sanitation infrastructure.

India’s sanitation problem is well documented – the country was recently declared as having the highest number of people living without basic sanitation facilities. Sanitation encompasses all conditions relating to public health - especially sewage disposal and access to clean drinking water. Due to associated losses in productivity caused by sickness, increased healthcare costs and increased mortality, India recorded a loss of 5.2% of its GDP to poor sanitation in 2015. As tremendous as the economic losses are, the on-ground, human consequences of poor sanitation are grim - about one in 10 deaths, according to the World Bank.

Poor sanitation contributes to about 10% of the world’s disease burden and is linked to even those diseases that may not present any correlation at first. For example, while lack of nutrition is a direct cause of anaemia, poor sanitation can contribute to the problem by causing intestinal diseases which prevent people from absorbing nutrition from their food. In fact, a study found a correlation between improved sanitation and reduced prevalence of anaemia in 14 Indian states. Diarrhoeal diseases, the most well-known consequence of poor sanitation, are the third largest cause of child mortality in India. They are also linked to undernutrition and stunting in children - 38% of Indian children exhibit stunted growth. Improved sanitation can also help reduce prevalence of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Though not a cause of high mortality rate, NTDs impair physical and cognitive development, contribute to mother and child illness and death and affect overall productivity. NTDs caused by parasitic worms - such as hookworms, whipworms etc. - infect millions every year and spread through open defecation. Improving toilet access and access to clean drinking water can significantly boost disease control programmes for diarrhoea, NTDs and other correlated conditions.

Unfortunately, with about 732 million people who have no access to toilets, India currently accounts for more than half of the world population that defecates in the open. India also accounts for the largest rural population living without access to clean water. Only 16% of India’s rural population is currently served by piped water.

However, there is cause for optimism. In the three years of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the country’s sanitation coverage has risen from 39% to 65% and eight states and Union Territories have been declared open defecation free. But lasting change cannot be ensured by the proliferation of sanitation infrastructure alone. Ensuring the usage of toilets is as important as building them, more so due to the cultural preference for open defecation in rural India.

According to the World Bank, hygiene promotion is essential to realise the potential of infrastructure investments in sanitation. Behavioural intervention is most successful when it targets few behaviours with the most potential for impact. An area of public health where behavioural training has made an impact is WASH - water, sanitation and hygiene - a key issue of UN Sustainable Development Goal 6. Compliance to WASH practices has the potential to reduce illness and death, poverty and improve overall socio-economic development. The UN has even marked observance days for each - World Water Day for water (22 March), World Toilet Day for sanitation (19 November) and Global Handwashing Day for hygiene (15 October).

At its simplest, the benefits of WASH can be availed through three simple habits that safeguard against disease - washing hands before eating, drinking clean water and using a clean toilet. Handwashing and use of toilets are some of the most important behavioural interventions that keep diarrhoeal diseases from spreading, while clean drinking water is essential to prevent water-borne diseases and adverse health effects of toxic contaminants. In India, Hindustan Unilever Limited launched the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, a WASH behaviour change programme, to complement the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Through its on-ground behaviour change model, SASB seeks to promote the three basic WASH habits to create long-lasting personal hygiene compliance among the populations it serves.

This touching film made as a part of SASB’s awareness campaign shows how lack of knowledge of basic hygiene practices means children miss out on developmental milestones due to preventable diseases.

Play

SASB created the Swachhata curriculum, a textbook to encourage adoption of personal hygiene among school going children. It makes use of conceptual learning to teach primary school students about cleanliness, germs and clean habits in an engaging manner. Swachh Basti is an extensive urban outreach programme for sensitising urban slum residents about WASH habits through demos, skits and etc. in partnership with key local stakeholders such as doctors, anganwadi workers and support groups. In Ghatkopar, Mumbai, HUL built the first-of-its-kind Suvidha Centre - an urban water, hygiene and sanitation community centre. It provides toilets, handwashing and shower facilities, safe drinking water and state-of-the-art laundry operations at an affordable cost to about 1,500 residents of the area.

HUL’s factory workers also act as Swachhata Doots, or messengers of change who teach the three habits of WASH in their own villages. This mobile-led rural behaviour change communication model also provides a volunteering opportunity to those who are busy but wish to make a difference. A toolkit especially designed for this purpose helps volunteers approach, explain and teach people in their immediate vicinity - their drivers, cooks, domestic helps etc. - about the three simple habits for better hygiene. This helps cast the net of awareness wider as regular interaction is conducive to habit formation. To learn more about their volunteering programme, click here. To learn more about the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hindustan Unilever and not by the Scroll editorial team.