Going into Rodrigo Duterte’s third year as the controversial President of the Philippines it is worth reflecting on the way he is seen both inside the Philippines and by the rest of the world.
In the US and other developed countries, he is seen as a lawless warlord, killing at will and paying no regard to human rights. Unpunished summary executions, usually on the spot, of alleged drug pushers are referred to as evidence of his disregard for law and order and of his ‘warlord’ mentality.
He openly advocates the extrajudicial killings of those involved in dealing drugs and protects and praises those carrying out his ‘policies’. Those affected are usually at a lower level as the ‘higher ups’ have ways to protect themselves and are usually close with politicians, military or police (many of which are, or have been, active drug ‘lords’.)
Additionally, many police and politicians have seized the opportunity to settle scores and even to take over drug operations from competitors, and there is no doubt that many killings have had nothing to do with drugs, but are family feuds, business disputes etc. But by mentioning drugs the perpetrators usually go without any punishment.
However, there is another side to this story. The criticisms and outrage by foreigners who do not know the Philippines, who live in ‘safe’ countries and do not need to worry about being killed or victimized by the drug culture that used to exist is largely misinformed. There are few families in the Philippines who have not been affected with a family member being killed by drugs or by drug pushers.
Because of this, despite of the anomalies and ‘mistakes’ Duterte still enjoys great support among Philippinos here and abroad because, at least in respect of drugs, things are improving. In some areas drug dealing has greatly reduced and even disappeared.
People do feel safer now than before. Duterte has tackled the problem in a way no western leader would have got away with, and it does seem to be working, while in the US the drug problem increases, and no-one seems to have a clue how to address it. All the western politicians can d it re-has old, failed policies. It is difficult to see how it will end.
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