Philippine Drug War

Philippine Drug War

President Rodrigo Duterte presents a chart which he claims to be of a drug trade network of high level drug syndicates in the Philippines.
Date 1 July 2016 present
(5 months and 4 days)
Location Philippines
Status Ongoing
Parties to the civil conflict

Individuals suspected by police or vigilantes of involvement in the illegal drug trade:

Lead figures
160,000 police personnel
16 policemen and 3 soldiers killed, 45 policemen and 8 soldiers wounded[13]
5,617 killed (1,959 in police operations, 3,658 extrajudicial or by vigilantes), 37,449 arrested, 807,659 "surrendered"[13]
Total killed: 5,636

The Philippine Drug War (Filipino: Giyera o kampanya laban sa iligal na droga sa Pilipinas), officially named Oplan Double Barrel and Oplan Tokhang, is a campaign against illegal drugs in the Philippines.[14] The term tokhang is a portmanteau for Cebuano words, tuktok which means "knock" and hangyo meaning "persuade".


Rodrigo Duterte won the 2016 Philippine presidential election on May 9 promising to kill tens of thousands of criminals, and urging people to kill drug addicts.[15] As Mayor of Davao City, Duterte was criticized by groups like Human Rights Watch for the extrajudicial killings of hundreds of street children, petty criminals and drug users carried out by the Davao Death Squad, a vigilante group with which he was allegedly involved.[16][17][18]

Despite earlier pronouncements in front of the media and public crowds,[17] Duterte has denied any involvement in the alleged vigilante killings, and said that the Davao Death Squad does not exist.[19] According to a spokesman, Duterte does not support or endorse the extrajudicial killings of drug suspects.[20] Foreign affairs secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. stated that Duterte "has always ensured that there will be investigations of any allegations of extrajudicial killings."[21]

According to the Philippines Dangerous Drugs Board, the government drug policy-making body, out of a population of approximately 100 million, 1.8 million Filipinos used illegal drugs in 2015, the latest official survey published, down from 6.7 million in 2004. Duterte said in his state of the nation address that data from the Philippines Drug Enforcement Agency showed there were 3 million drug addicts 2 to 3 years ago, which he said may have increased to 3.7 million.[22]

President Duterte has alleged that the Philippines is becoming a "narco-state" in order to justify the so-called war on drugs. There is little evidence to show this is true. The Philippines has a low prevalence rate of drug users, compared to the global average, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Amnesty International, October 7, 2016[23]

Major events

In speeches made after his inauguration on June 30, Duterte urged citizens to kill suspected criminals and drug addicts. He said he would order police to adopt a shoot-to-kill policy, and would offer them a bounty for dead suspects.[15] On July 2, the Communist Party of the Philippines stated that it "reiterates its standing order for the NPA to carry out operations to disarm and arrest the chieftains of the biggest drug syndicates, as well as other criminal syndicates involved in human rights violations and destruction of the environment" after its political wing Bagong Alyansang Makabayan accepted Cabinet posts in the new government.[24][25] On July 3, the Philippine National Police said they had killed 30 alleged drug dealers since Duterte was sworn in as president on June 30.[26][27] They later stated they had killed 103 suspects between May 10 and July 7.[28]

On July 9, a spokesperson of the president told critics to show proof that there have been human rights violations in the Drug War.[28] The situation likened to the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.[29] Later that day, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front said it was open to collaborate with police in the Drug War.[30]

On August 3, Duterte said that the Sinaloa cartel and the Chinese triad are involved in the Philippine drug trade. A presidential spokesperson said that Duterte welcomed a proposed Congressional investigation into extrajudicial killings to be chaired by Senator Leila de Lima, his chief critic in the government.[31] On August 7, Duterte named more than 150 drug suspects including local politicians, police, judges, and military.[32][33] On August 8, the United States expressed concerns over the extrajudicial killings.[34]

On August 17, Duterte announced that de Lima had been having an affair with a married man, her driver, Ronnie Palisoc Dayan. Duterte claimed that Dayan was her collector for drug money, who had also himself been using drugs.[35] In a news conference on August 21, Duterte announced that he had in his possession wiretaps and ATM records which confirmed his allegations. He stated: "What is really crucial here is that because of her [romantic] relationship with her driver which I termed 'immoral' because the driver has a family and wife, that connection gave rise to the corruption of what was happening inside the national penitentiary." Dismissing fears for Dayan's safety, he added, "As the President, I got this information … as a privilege. But I am not required to prove it in court. That is somebody else's business. My job is to protect public interest. She's lying through her teeth." He explained that he had acquired the new evidence from an unnamed foreign country.[36]

On August 18, United Nations human rights experts called on the Philippines to halt extrajudicial killings. Agnes Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur on summary executions, stated that Duterte had given a "license to kill" to his citizens by encouraging them to kill.[37][38] In response, Duterte threatened to withdraw from the UN and form a separate group with African nations and China. Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella later clarified that the Philippines was not leaving the UN.[39] As the official death toll reached 1,800, a Congressional investigation of the killings chaired by de Lima was opened.[40]

On August 23, the Philippine human rights commission said that the International Criminal Court may have jurisdiction over the mass killings.[41] On August 25, Duterte released a "drug matrix" supposedly linking government officials, including de Lima, with the New Bilibid Prison drug trafficking scandal.[42] De Lima stated that the "drug matrix" was like something drawn by a 12-year-old child. She added, "I will not dignify any further this so-called 'drug matrix' which, any ordinary lawyer knows too well, properly belongs in the garbage can."[43][44]

On August 26, the official death total reached 2,000.[45] On August 29, Duterte called on de Lima to resign and "hang herself".[46] In a speech Duterte rejected comparisons between his policies and those of the Islamic State or Syrian President Bashar Assad.[47]

Following the September 2 bombing in Davao City that killed 14 people in the city's central business district, on September 3 Duterte declared a "state of lawlessness", and on the following day signed a declaration of a "state of national emergency on account of lawless violence in Mindanao".[48][49] The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) were ordered to "suppress all forms of lawless violence in Mindanao" and to "prevent lawless violence from spreading and escalating elsewhere". Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said that the declaration "does not specify the imposition of curfews", and would remain in force indefinitely. He explained: "The recent incidents, the escape of terrorists from prisons, the beheadings, then eventually what happened in Davao. That was the basis."[50][49] The state of emergency has been seen as an attempt by Duterte to "enhance his already strong hold on power, and give him carte blanche to impose further measures" in the Drug War:

Never previously has a state of emergency been declared as a result of a single bombing or kidnappings, which were in any event far more serious a decade ago than they are today. And, in fairness, bombings have regrettably become commonplace in areas of the southern Philippines over the past two decades.[51]

On September 5, 2016, with 2,400 people dead so far, Duterte repeated that "plenty will be killed" in the Drug War.[52] U.S. President Barack Obama cancelled a scheduled meeting with Duterte after Duterte referred to Obama as a "son of a whore".[53][54]

The execution-style killing of Aurora Moynihan on September 9 was widely reported. She was the sister of well-known actress Maritoni Fernandez and the daughter of Antony Moynihan, 3rd Baron Moynihan.[55] Moynihan had been added to the "drug watch list" of the Taguig Police after being arrested in 2013.[56]

On September 13, Duterte said he feared that certain unnamed members of the Liberal Party might orchestrate a campaign to impeach him by blaming him for the Drug War killings. Reiterating that Americans were "hypocrites" for criticizing the killings, he displayed photos of US troops in 1906 standing over a pile of bodies at the Bud Dajo Massacre. In the previous week he had shown the same photos to delegates at the East Asia Summit in Laos.[57]

On September 15, Edgar Matobato, an ex-hitman who claimed he had worked for the Davao Death Squad, testified to the senate committee chaired by de Lima that he had witnessed Duterte carry out an execution and order killings sometime in the 1990s, allegations which his office denies.[58] Duterte announced that he has a new list of at least 1,000 politicians and public officials who were involved in a drug trade.[59]

On September 19 the Senate voted 16-4 to remove de Lima from her position heading the Senate committee, in a motion brought by senator and boxer Manny Pacquiao.[60] Duterte's allies in the Senate argued that by allowing Matobato's testimony, de Lima had damaged the country's reputation. She was replaced by Senator Richard Gordon.[61] Duterte told reporters that he wanted "a little extension of maybe another six months" in the Drug War, as there were so many drug offenders and criminals that he "cannot kill them all".[62][63] On the following day, a convicted bank robber and two former prison officials testified that they had paid bribes to de Lima. She denies the allegations.[64]

At a press conference on September 30, on his arrival in Davao City after a two-day official visit in Vietnam,[65] Duterte appeared to make a comparison between the Drug War and The Holocaust.[66] He said that "Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now there are three million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them."[66] His remarks generated an international outcry. US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said the statement was "deeply troubling".[67][68] The German government told the Philippine ambassador that Duterte's remarks were "unacceptable."[69] On October 2, Duterte made an apology to the Jewish community following his remarks. He said that he did not mean to derogate the memory of 6 million Jews slaughtered by the Germans.[70][71]

At the beginning of October, a senior police officer told The Guardian that 10 "special ops" official police death squads had been operating, each consisting of 15 police officers. The officer said that he had personally been involved in killing 87 suspects, and described how the corpses had their head wrapped in masking tape with a cardboard placard labelling them as a drug offender so that the killing would not be investigated, or they were dumped at the roadside ("salvage" victims). The chairman of the Philippines Commission on Human Rights, Chito Gascon, was quoted in the report: "I am not surprised, I have heard of this." The PNP declined to comment. The report stated: "although the Guardian can verify the policeman's rank and his service history, there is no independent, official confirmation for the allegations of state complicity and police coordination in mass murder."[72]

On October 28, incumbent Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao Mayor Samsudin Dimaukom and nine others (including his five bodyguards) were killed during what was described as a shootout by the police after they reportedly engaged Dimaukom's group during an anti-illegal drug operation in Makilala, North Cotabato.[73][74] Dimaukom was among the drug list named by Duterte on August 7.[75]

Former Philippine president Fidel Ramos quit as the Philippines' special envoy to China on October 31 after falling out with Duterte.[76]

On November 1, it was reported that the US State Department had halted the sale of 26,000 assault rifles to the PNP after opposition from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee due to concerns about human rights violations. A police spokesman said they had not been informed. PNP chief Ronald dela Rosa suggested China as a possible alternative supplier.[77][78] On November 7, Duterte reacted to the US decision to halt the sale by announcing that he was "ordering its cancellation".[79]

In the early morning of 5 November, incumbent Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr., who had been detained at Baybay City Sub-Provincial Jail for violation of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, was killed in what was described as a shootout inside his jail cell with personnel from the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG).[80] According to the CIDG, Espinosa opened fire on police agents who were executing a search warrant for "illegal firearms."[81] A hard drive of CCTV footage which may have recorded the shooting of Espinosa is missing, a provincial official said.[82] Espinosa had turned himself in to PNP after being named in Duterte's drug list in August.[83][84] He was briefly released but then re-arrested for alleged drug possession. The president of the National Union of People's Lawyers, Edre Olalia, told local broadcaster TV5 that the police version of events was "too contrived". He pointed out that a search warrant is not required to search a jail cell. "Such acts make a mockery of the law, taunt impunity and insult ordinary common sense." Espinosa was the second official to be killed in the Drug War.[85][86]

Following the incident, on the same day, Senator Panfilo Lacson sought to resume the investigation of extrajudicial killings after it was suspended on 3 October by the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights.[87][88]

On 28 November Duterte appeared to threaten that human rights workers would be targeted: "The human rights [defenders] say I kill. If I say: 'Okay, I'll stop'. They [drug users] will multiply. When harvest time comes, there will be more of them who will die. Then I will include you among them because you let them multiply." Amnesty International Philippines stated that Duterte was "inciting hate towards anyone who expresses dissent on his war against drugs." The National Alliance against Killings Philippines stated: "His comment - that human rights is part of the drug problem and, as such, human rights advocates should be targeted too - can be interpreted as a declaration of an open season on human rights defenders".[89]



Some politicians such as Liza Maza of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, allies of the government, and Ifugao congressman Teodoro Baguilat, asked Duterte to investigate the killings.[90][91] Others have taken the opportunity to propose radical new Senate bills to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 9, and to restore capital punishment.[22] Senator Risa Hontiveros, an opponent of Duterte, claimed that the Drug War was a political manoeuvre intended to convince people that "suddenly the historically most important issue of poverty was no longer the most important."[22] De Lima expressed frustration with the attitude of Filipinos towards extrajudicial killing: "they think that it's good for peace and order. We now have death squads on a national scale, but I'm not seeing public outrage."[22] According to a Pulse Asia opinion poll conducted from July 2 to 8, 2016, 91% of Filipinos "trusted" Duterte.[92]

The Archbishop of Manila Luis Antonio Tagle acknowledged that people were right to be "worried about extrajudicial killings", along with other forms of murder: abortion, unfair labor practices, wasting food and "selling illegal drugs, pushing the youth to go into vices".[93]

The Chairman of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Sergio Ortiz-Luis Jr., quelled fears that foreign investors might be put off by the increasing rate of killings in the country, explaining at a press conference on September 19 that investors only care about profit: "They don't care if 50 percent of Filipinos are killing each other so long as they're not affected".[94] On the following day the Wall Street Journal reported that foreign investors, who account for half of the activity on the Philippine stock exchange, had been "hightailing it out of town", selling $500 million worth of shares over the past month, putting pressure on the Philippine peso which was close to its weakest point since 2009.[95]

Dela Rosa announced on September 16 that the Drug War had "reduced the supply of illegal drugs in the country by some 80 to 90 percent".[96] On September 26, he said that the Drug War was already being won, based on statistical and observational evidence.[97] Aljazeera reported that John Collins, director of the London School of Economics International Drug Policy Project, had a different assessment: "Targeting the supply side can have short-term effects. However, these are usually limited to creating market chaos rather than reducing the size of the market. ... What you learn is that you're going to war with a force of economics and the force of economics tends to win out: supply, demand and price tend to find their own way." He said it was a "certainty" that "the Philippines' new 'war' will fail and society will emerge worse off from it."[22]


Protest against the Philippine war on drugs in front of the Philippine Consulate General in New York City. The protesters are holding placards which urge Duterte to stop killing drug users.

Gary Song-Huann Lin, the representative of Taiwan in the Philippines, welcomed Duterte’s plan to declare a war against criminality and illegal drugs. He said Taiwan is ready to help the Philippines combat cross-border crimes like human and drug trafficking.[98] On July 19, 2016, Lingxiao Li, spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Manila announced China's support for the Drug War: "China fully understands that the Philippine government under the leadership of H. E. President Rodrigo Duterte has taken it as a top priority in cracking down drug-related crimes. China has expressed explicitly to the new administration China's willingness for effective cooperation in this regard, and would like to work out a specific plan of action with the Philippine side." The statement made no reference to extrajudicial killings, and called illegal drugs the "common enemy of mankind".[99][100][101] On September 27, the Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua reiterated that "Illegal drugs are the enemy of all mankind" in a statement confirming Chinese support for the Duterte administration.[102]

The European Parliament expressed concern over the extrajudicial killings after a resolution on September 15, stating: "Drug trafficking and drug abuse in the Philippines remain a serious national and international concern, note MEPs. They understand that millions of people are hurt by the high level of drug addiction and its consequences in the country but are also concerned by the 'extraordinarily high numbers killed during police operations in the context of an intensified anti-crime and anti-drug campaign."[103] In response, at a press conference Duterte made an obscene hand gesture and called British and French representatives "hypocrites" because their ancestors had killed thousands of Arabs and others in the colonial era. He said: "When I read the EU condemnation I told them fuck you. You are doing it in atonement for your sins. They are now strict because they have guilty feelings. Who did I kill? Assuming that it’s true? 1,700? How many have they killed?"[104][105]

Indonesian National Police Chief General Tito Karnavian commented in regards to Indonesia's rejection of a similar policy for Indonesia: "Shoot on sight policy leads to abuse of power. We still believe in presumption of innocence. Lethal actions are only warranted if there is an immediate threat against officers... there should not be a deliberate attempt to kill".[106] In September 2016 Budi Waseso, head of Indonesia's National Narcotics Agency (BNN), said that he was currently contemplating copying the Philippines' hardline tactics against drug traffickers. He said that the Agency planned a major increase in armaments and recruitment. An Agency spokesman later attempted to play down the comments, stating: "We can't shoot criminals just like that, we have to follow the rules."[107]

On October 16, prior to Duterte's departure for a state visit to Brunei, the President said he would seek the support of that country for his campaign against illegal drugs and Brunei's continued assistance to achieve peace and progress in Mindanao.[108] This was responded positively from Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah in the next day according to Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr.[109] Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said "he respect the method undertaken by the Philippine government as it is suitable for their country situation", while stressing that "Malaysia will never follow such example as we have our own methods with one of those such as seizing assets used in drug trafficking with resultant funds to be channelled back towards rehabilitation, prevention and enforcement of laws against drugs".[110]

The International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda expressed concern, over the drug-related killings in the country, on October 13.[111] In her statement, Bensouda said that the high officials of the country "seem to condone such killings and further seem to encourage State forces and civilians alike to continue targeting these individuals with lethal force."[112] She also warns that any person in the country who provoke "in acts of mass violence by ordering, requesting, encouraging or contributing, in any other manner, to the commission of crimes within the jurisdiction of ICC" will be prosecuted before the court.[113] About that, Duterte is open for the investigation by the ICC, Malacañang said.[113]

On November 17, Sweden voiced their concerns over the continuous drug war. Its ambassador to the Philippines, Harald Fries said “As far as I know, the policies are stable and the rules are stable, but of course in Sweden as in many other countries, there is some concern about the large number of killings going on in this country. I can't say anything more than it is a concern, and we follow it and we trust that the Philippine government is investigating these killings. And that's what we hear that the government is doing”.[114]

See also


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