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.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.