For the past six months, the Philippines has waged a brutal, bloody war against people who use drugs, people who sell drugs, and people who are simply assumed to be doing either. This war on the country’s most vulnerable citizens has been undertaken at the behest of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte who, upon assuming office in June, made a public call for police and citizens alike to execute people who use or sell drugs.
To date, over 6,000 people have been executed in Duterte’s egregious war. A further 840,000 drug users have turned themselves in to authorities in the hope of protection, yet, as last week’s harrowing New York Times photo essay on the Philippines highlighted, not even those that turn themselves in are spared from murder.
Initially, the United States, which boasts of a historic partnership with the Philippines, was silent about the tragedy unfolding in the country. However, in recent weeks, the U.S. government has become more vocal in its opposition to the gross human rights violations associated with Duterte’s war on drugs. State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner said in a press briefing that “we’re very concerned—deeply concerned, I would say—about reports of extrajudicial killings of individuals suspected to have been involved in drug activity in the Philippines.” After impassioned statements by Senators Patrick Leahy and Benjamin Cardin about the gravity of the situation in the Philippines, the State Department vowed to redirect $9 million in aid away from Philippine counternarcotics training. Last month, the U.S. halted planned sales of over 26,000 assault rifles to the Philippines after Senator Cardin vowed to block the sale.
Today, the United States announced that it will defer economic aid to the Philippines because Duterte has shown no signs of restraint or of reversing his inhumane drug war. Molly Koscina, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines said that the decision was taken due to “significant concerns around the rule of law and civil liberties in the Philippines.” Neither the U.S. or Philippine government has clarified the size of the grant, but officials said it was lower than the previous aid package of $434 million.
Koscina said that they would continue “to monitor unfolding events” in the Philippines to determine whether the country becomes eligible for funding in the future but that a country “must demonstrate a commitment to just and democratic governance, investments in its people and economic freedom” to receive funding.
The move by the U.S. government to make aid and weapons sales conditional on respect for human rights is a good step in the right direction and is symbolically important in demonstrating that the U.S. will not stand for widespread abuses in the name of the war on drugs. The U.S. should continue to halt drug war aid to the Philippines and to other countries around the world, including those that violate due process and rule of law in their counternarcotic efforts by militarizing the drug war or by imposing capital punishment for drug offenses.
However, it is gravely concerning that our president-elect is showing signs of deviating from the U.S.’s recent criticism of Duterte’s war on drugs. Earlier this month, Donald Trump wished Duterte well in his anti-drug campaign and said that Duterte was going about it in “the right way,” before inviting Duterte to the White House.
Trump’s support for Duterte’s war is appalling. This is a man who has boasted of personally executing criminal suspects when he was mayor of Davao City, threatened to kill human rights defenders who attempt to intervene in his drug war, and has likened himself to Hitler, vowing to “slaughter three million drug addicts.” He needs to be brought to trial for crimes against humanity, not praised by the future president of the United States.
Hannah Hetzer is Senior International Policy Manager at the Drug Policy Alliance.