Years Later, Philippines Reckons With Duterte’s Brutal Drug War

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The Long Shadow of Duterte’s "War on Drugs" in the Philippines: Justice Seeks to Catch Up

Two years after former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte left office, his legacy of extrajudicial killings in the name of his infamous "war on drugs" continues to haunt the nation. Despite the relative decline in killings since Duterte’s departure, a culture of violence and impunity persists, leaving thousands of families seeking justice for their loved ones. While the Philippine government has taken baby steps towards accountability – a few police officers have been convicted for their role in these killings – human rights groups and victims’ families are demanding more, with international scrutiny becoming increasingly necessary.

Key Takeaways:

  • Duterte’s "war on drugs" has left a trail of thousands dead, with the government claiming 6,252 were killed by security forces while human rights groups estimate the total to be closer to 30,000.
  • The Philippine government has held several hearings into the violence, but Duterte has refused to testify, invoking his right against self-incrimination.
  • The International Criminal Court (ICC) is actively investigating Duterte’s actions, and is nearing a decision regarding potential charges against him.
  • Victims’ families continue to fight for justice, facing threats and intimidation from law enforcement officials, while hoping the ICC investigation will bring them some form of accountability.
  • The current president, Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., has taken a more nuanced approach, allowing ICC investigators back into the Philippines, but has also asserted that the court has no jurisdiction over the country.
  • The legacy of violence and impunity left by Duterte continues to cast a long shadow, discouraging some families from seeking justice through the courts while raising deeply concerning questions about the rule of law in the Philippines.

A Culture of Violence and Impunity:

The "war on drugs" campaign, initiated by Duterte in 2016, involved a sweeping crackdown on drug users and dealers. This often took the form of brutal extrajudicial killings by police and vigilantes, with Duterte himself promising immunity for these actions.

“I’d be happy to slaughter them,” Duterte declared, referring to the estimated three million drug addicts in the Philippines. His callous rhetoric, combined with the culture of impunity he fostered, created an environment where violence became the norm.

A Climate of Fear and Injustice:

Reymie Bayunon, who lost her 7-year-old son, Jefferson, in a 2019 shooting after witnessing a killing in their neighborhood, embodies the fear and despair that many families face.

“I call on you to cooperate with the I.C.C. because this is the only chance we have to attain justice,” she said, highlighting the desperation of those seeking accountability from a government that has failed to protect its citizens.

The ICC Investigation and the Quest for Justice:

The ICC, an international tribunal established to prosecute crimes against humanity, has launched an investigation into Duterte’s "war on drugs." Though the Philippines has withdrawn from the ICC, the court maintains its jurisdiction over events that occurred while the country was a member.

The ICC investigation is seen as a beacon of hope for victims’ families, many of whom feel that their own government is failing them. The court’s potential prosecution could lead to accountability for Duterte and other high-ranking officials involved in the campaign.

The Ongoing Struggle for Justice:

Despite the hope offered by the ICC investigation, justice for victims’ families remains a long and arduous journey. For Mary Ann Domingo, who lost her partner and son in a 2016 raid by police officers, the recent conviction of four officers involved in the killing offers a glimmer of hope. However, she recognizes the need for broader accountability.

"The I.C.C. is still needed because we need justice for every victim of the drug war,” she said, emphasizing the systemic issue at play.

The Unsettled Political Landscape:

The relationship between former President Duterte and his successor, Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., remains complex, adding another layer to the pursuit of justice.

Although Marcos initially pledged to protect Duterte from the ICC, he has since allowed ICC investigators back into the Philippines. However, he has also reiterated his view that the ICC has no jurisdiction over the country.

This shifting position highlights the uncertainty surrounding the future of the investigation and the potential for accountability for Duterte’s actions.

The Urgent Need for Accountability:

The story of Duterte’s "war on drugs" is a stark reminder of the dangers of impunity and the devastating consequences of human rights violations carried out under the guise of public safety.

The families of the victims deserve justice, and the Philippine government needs to take a more proactive stance towards accountability, both domestically and internationally. The ICC investigation offers a critical opportunity to hold those responsible accountable, and to ensure that such atrocities are never repeated.

As the ICC investigation progresses, the international community must remain vigilant in monitoring the situation in the Philippines, ensuring that the victims’ voices are heard, and demanding justice for the thousands who have been lost in the shadow of Duterte’s "war on drugs."

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Olivia King
Olivia King
Olivia King is a social media expert and digital marketer. Her writing focuses on the most shared content across platforms, exploring the reasons behind viral trends and the impact of social media. Olivia's expertise helps readers understand the dynamics of online sharing.