State-Sponsored Atrocities in the Philippines Unlikely to End Any Time Soon

Written by: Connor Touhey

Due to the behavior of President Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines has gained international attention for all the wrong reasons over the past year and a half. For some, Duterte might be best known for his aggressive outbursts. He called the American ambassador to his nation a “gay son of a bitch” and told President Obama to “go to hell” after also calling him a “son of a bitch.” At this point in his administration’s reign, however, Duterte should also be understood as nothing short of a genocidal, authoritarian strong-man intent on doing whatever he pleases to his own constituents.

When President Duterte took office, he vowed to end long standing issues with the production, dealing, and abuse of dangerous drugs in the Philippines. His ensuing drug war between the National Police and a portion of the rural southern population has reportedly resulted in the deaths of more than 12,000 Filipinos. Of those 12,000, it’s thought that nearly a quarter were killed by government forces, and that many of those killings were covered up with “falsified evidence” in order to make them seem acceptable to the general public. Investigations undertaken by organizations like Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch have found that many of those killed aren’t even dealing drugs but rather are targeted because they are living in poverty. For what it’s worth, it should also be noted that even if those being killed by Duterte’s men were all drug dealers, it would still be unacceptable to have them massacred in the streets.

Nevertheless, President Duterte has done nothing but endorse the killings, even openly admitting after his victory in the 2016 election that he intended to kill any “drug-pushers, holdup men, and do-nothings” and would fill Manila Bay with executed criminals. This rhetoric, accompanied by Duterte’s harsh policies, is alarming. The problem is that Duterte has remained wildly popular in the country despite his actions, making it difficult for the United Nations or even individual nations such as Australia who have vocally opposed Duterte’s actions, to act in any meaningful way, whether that be through economic sanctions or military force.

For the United Nations to act with force, it would need member states or members of the UN Security Council, who have been nearly silent on the issue, to agree to send men and supplies to the country knowing full well that the Philippine government and its people would see the intervention as an act of war. Such action would likely result in significant casualties for both UN peacekeeping forces and civilian populations, not to mention the absurdly high monetary cost any conflict would incur on participating nations. Trade embargoes or economic sanctions are also extremely unlikely given that the United States likely wouldn’t participate; President Trump has lavished praise on Duterte, even with regard to his “war on drugs” specifically, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has gone out of his way to ignore Duterte’s policies. One can only hope that 2018 will find a solution to problems in the Philippines, because there are seemingly none available right now.