Authorities in the Philippines relaunched President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody drug war on Tuesday, as the reinstatement of the death penalty in the country moves a step closer and continues to alarm local and international human rights groups.
In announcing the reinitiation of the bloody drug war, Philippine National Police chief Ronald de la Rosa hoped that anti-drug operations in the future would be less bloody “or even bloodless.”
Just hours after the announcement, however, police killed four suspected drug dealers. Police forces have constantly been accused of carrying out targeted assassinations of drug suspects and abusing their power with widespread impunity. Duterte toned down the crackdown in late January after a South Korean businessman was killed by a rogue squad of drug police.
Known for his maverick and hardline approach to drugs while mayor of Davao City, Duterte's “war on drugs” is estimated to have already claimed over 8,000 lives since he became president in June 2016.
Merciless crackdowns by the police and military on traffickers and users have seen scores of extrajudicial and vigilante killings. Very soon Duterte could have his way with reinstating the death penalty for drug offenses.
While the death penalty was scrapped in the Philippines 11 years ago, on Tuesday the country’s lower house approved a bill to restore capital punishment, with a presidential spokesman saying that the reinstatement “underlines the Duterte administration’s goal to reduce illegal drug-related criminality.”
The bill, which would only apply the death penalty to drug crimes such as production and trafficking, will still need to be approved by the upper house and signed by Duterte.
Despite Duterte enjoying an approval rating of around 80 percent, there are many in the devout Catholic country that vehemently oppose the drug war and the death penalty in particular.
Around 200 anti-death-penalty protesters, including young children, held demonstrations outside the house of representatives as voting for the bill was taking place. In February, more than 10,000 anti-death-penalty protesters took to the streets of Manila. The Catholic Church has helped lead opposition to the bill and says it will take the law to the Supreme Court if the death penalty is signed back into law.
National democratic youth group Anakbayan criticized the resumption of the war on drugs, saying it is an attack on the poor where “drug lords, their protectors in government and ninja cops have gone scot-free.”
In a press release, Anakbayan National Chairperson Vencer Crisostomo said that the death penalty “reflects the intensifying fascism under the Duterte regime,” and is “simply another instrument to sow terror and silence dissent.”
Large protests are expected to take place across the country to protest Duterte's policies tomorrow, March 8, for International Women's Day.