Asia-Pacific, Philippines, Human Rights, Politics

The Punisher’s Blessing: Extrajudicial Killings Sanctioned by Duterte in the Philippines

“Please feel free to call us, the police, or do it yourself if you have the gun — you have my support” – Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said during his speech in Davao in early July pertaining to the eradication of drug trade in the country.

The question is, what is it that he encourages even civilians to do against pushers and runners of drugs in the country? Killing.

Extermination of Drug Trade

Yes. Killing.

The Punisher, as Duterte is dubbed due to his vigilante tactics in curbing crimes, is often recorded in public appearances threatening criminals that he will kill them. He even encourages the public to do it themselves if the criminals resist arrest or if they threaten civilians, “I will give you a medal,” he adds.

Seven weeks into his office, there are already 1,800 cases of extrajudicial killings linked to his war on drugs. As of the moment, more than 10, 000 users and pushers had been arrested and around 600,000 users already surrendered.

The Rise of the Vigilantes

What is alarming is that the death toll continues to rise and bodies are found everywhere — hand tied and shamed with signages saying “Huwag tularan, pusher ako” (I’m a drug pusher, don’t end up like me).

Of course, the Police force apparently had nothing to do with it thus, these were deemed doings of vigilantes taking Duterte’s words as a go signal. However, some people think that these deaths do not stop the drug industry but is implicit of a bigger social problem: that there could be larger drug-related groups behind all the killings that shun potential witnesses to their arrest.

Duterte Causes International Attention

Due to the severity of the matter, it has now taken the attention of international organizations like the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the UN.

The ICC urges the Philippine government to act on the killings and to be lawful in the fight against drugs as the case is already becoming a threat to humanity. If ever the Philippines cannot handle the issue anymore, the ICC will rightfully take over.

The ICC is the last resort authority that may hold jurisdiction if the national government can no longer handle a certain case. Since the death toll continues to rise in the past days, it prompted the ICC to remind the Philippines to operate within the law. Otherwise, the ICC will be implementing the motu proprio jurisdiction or the right to decide on a matter without a formal complaint.

Legal or Not?

Rhetorically, as evidenced by several media coverage, the President’s blessing on extrajudicial killings is within the borders of yes and no — first, there is no concrete evidence that these were made legal or that Duterte personally instructed anyone to just kill.

Second, it appears that if anyone got killed due to drug-related reasons, it would be acceptable after Duterte expressed “his support” in the killings of people resisting arrest or confirmed suspects. As it appears, Duterte’s words could have incited the apparent vigilante movements.

Nonetheless, coursing through Duterte’s anti-drug discourse, as long as the number of pushers and users is reduced, Duterte will stand firm with his word that he will kill criminals. Also, with how he talks to the media, it seems that he will just continue neglecting the opinions of organizations on the issue as he claims their feedback to be just “stupid” criticisms.