Rodrigo Duterte is a diaper bomb masquerading as a democratically elected, a demagogue disposed towards despotism. He brags about killing people in cold blood, and is immensely popular in the Philippines. He rose to power on June 30th, 2016 promising to combat drug use and trafficking in his nation. He did this through declaring open season on drug pushers, and users, not just allowing but encouraging the murder of these people.
On paper this amounts to a full greenlight of vigilante justice, one that puts the onus of maintaining the peace on those who have had no training in doing so. In practice this has resulted in what is estimated to be anywhere between five and six thousand dead bodies some with notes of paper attached to them letting officers know that they were a drug dealer/user who deserved death.
Since July there have been 2,000 people killed by police and significantly less wounded, compared with the 17 officers killed during the beginning of this drug war. This either suggests robocop levels of badassery for the Filipino policemen, or a propensity to gun down unarmed victims. To compare, Brazilian law enforcement loses approximately 1 police officers for every 25 suspects they kill, in the Philippines this ratio is 1 for ever 118.
These murders are not investigated by the police department and are celebrated by Duterte, who in September stated that he would “gladly slaughter 3 million drug addicts”. It should be noted that most agencies evaluate the number of meth users in the Philippines at 2 million. The police are investigating 3,060 other murders, most of which are suspected to be vigilante kills.
Of course since the beginning of this drug war, over 38,000 arrests have been made. This is comparable to the 41,000 arrests made in Turkey, both campaigns against the Gulen movement and drug pushers began within 2 weeks of each other and it’s hard to tell which has received more international criticism. Duterte touts these arrests as a success. Anything that Duterte views as a success, a sane individual should see as a failure of humanity.
The one sided war he is fighting is against crystal meth, known in the Philippines as Shabu. In 2012 it became worth more than cocaine, reflecting the police’s successful attempts to restrict the supply of the product to the nation. It is estimated that approximately 2% of Filipinos are addicted to meth, amounting to the aforementioned 3 million citizens (once again, it’s actually 2) that Duterte would like to see “fatten the fish”.
Why meth though? It makes your teeth fall out. The answer is that in a struggling economy, the working poor turn to drugs that give them uninterrupted energy instead of the best idea for a shoe store that also gave pedicures, or a love hate relationship with your bathroom mirror.
The Filipino economy is highly dependent on remittances with an estimated 10 million Filipinos living abroad. Those who are abroad often find themselves as domestic caregivers, and send money back to keep their families afloat. This is because the Filipino economy has failed to create opportunity domestically, which in turn means that those who stay at home work longer for less. In turn, it creates incentive to either enter the informal economy (crime), or artificially supplement their energy levels to work 18 hour shifts. Either way, Meth has become interwoven into the Filipino economy, as workers depend on it for energy the way Suburbanites depend on Coffee.
Supporters of Duterte and Rodrigo himself point to the mass proliferation of Meth use as a result of a lack of law and order, and are acting accordingly. They are not wrong in this respect, corruption in the Filipino police department was rampant, and restrictive laws on wiretaps did hamstring investigations into drug cartels. This however is all the more reason not to unleash a police force that is openly regarded as corrupt on a populace.
In an investigation into meth use in Filipino ports, Gideon Lasco of the International Journal of Drug Policy found that Shabu use amongst young men working in ports was a “performance enhancer, increased strength and confidence, and created social cohesion amongst the men”. His conclusion was that meth was an integral part of the Filipino economy, and that drug policy directed at ending meth use needed to offer better alternatives to meth and the informal economy as opposed to greater law and order.
Meth use is not just a developing world phenomenon, it is becoming increasingly prevalent in the competitive world of academics. An increasing number of students, including myself as I write this article, are regular meth users through prescription drugs like Adderall. Many of these users have legitimate prescriptions like myself, but as someone who was never diagnosed with ADHD, I was able to bluff my way into this prescription with ease.
The ingredients and effects of Adderall and meth are nearly identical, they include: increased energy, focus, insomnia, and a loss of appetite. The only real difference being where they are made, and who they are profiting. It is widely known that most the Shabu found in the Philippines is smuggled in from China. And in 2014 China lead the world in amphetamine seizure with 31 tonnes. Granted this is only a fraction of total meth flowing into Duterte’s anarchic nation, but in comparison, America produced 193 tonnes of legal “stimulants” closely related to meth produced in 2013.
In 2012, it was found that approximately 4.8 million people in America were prescribed Adderall, along with 1.2 million meth users and approximately 700,000 campus students in 2010 who abuse Adderall, is staggering. In fact, America’s percentage of population that are meth users represent just over 2% it’s citizens, which is the same number found in the Philippines.
The war against Shabu in the Philippines, and more importantly their leader, is barbaric. The percentage of Filipinos who are addicted to meth is no less deserving of their lives than university students in the western world trying to keep up with an increasing workload and decreasing opportunity. Meth use and abuse is not a moral deficiency, rather it is a symptom of an economic landscape that requires more of workers while offering less.
Since the war on Shabu, prices for Meth have gone up exponentially, from P3,000 ($60 US) to P25,000 ($500 US) a gram. This represents a sharp decline in supply of meth, at the cost of thousands of lives who may or may not have just been trying get by. Maybe this is part of a scheme to wrestle away meth use from the informal market and make workers depend on the government and doctors for their meth like the West does. More likely it’s a madman’s scheme who has endorsed the slaughtering of innocents on a grand scale as platform plank.