Philippines: Legal Challenge to Deadly Drug War

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte remains intransigent on his ultra-murderous “drug war,” which has unleashed police and paramilitary terror on low-level dealers and users across the archipelago.

But, hearteningly, courageous dissent and resistance to the blood-drenched crackdown persists. On Monday, Al Jazeera featured a profile of the legal team at Manila’s Center for International Law, which has been going to bat for the targets of Duterte’s terror—despite the threat of reprisals.

Most significantly, the team succeeded in winning an order from the Supreme Court of the Philippines mandating protection for Efren Morillo, the lone survivor of a police ambush that killed four alleged drug users in a poor district of Manila last year. But their work comes with considerable risk. A total of 86 lawyers have been killed in the Philippines since 1999, according to official figures. Lawyers also frequently face threats and intimidation, and it is only a few who are willing to pursue politically charged cases.

And despite a Supreme Court order, there are growing questions about the independence of the judiciary. The lawyer for whistle-blower Edgar Matobato is bypassing Philippine courts altogether. Last year, Matobato testified to a Senate inquiry that Duterte was personally involved in extrajudicial killings while mayor of the southern city of Davao. Jude Sabio, his attorney, is preparing to file a case before the International Criminal Court, accusing Duterte of crimes against humanity based on Matobato’s account.

“It is wishful thinking” for the government to investigate itself, Sabio said, explaining why he is taking his case to the international body.

Duterte was typically unbowed by the threat of a trial before the ICC, as well as by the impeachment proceedings that have been launched in the Philippines’ House of Representatives.

He told reporters he would not waver in his anti-drug campaign: “I will not be intimidated and I shall not be stopped, just by what? International Criminal Court? Impeachment? If that is part of my destiny, it is my destiny to go.”

As if to drive home the point, Duterte, days later, boasted that he could be 50 times as brutal as the Islamist rebels his regime faces in the southern islands—and even invoked cannibalism against them. After a gun-battle with Abu Sayyaf rebels on Bohol Island, Duterte ordered troops to hunt down and kill fleeing militants. Calling the rebels “animals,” he unappetizingly grandstanded that he could “go down what you can 50 times over… Just give me vinegar and salt, I’ll eat his liver.”

But dissent has emerged even within Duterte’s own administration.

Vice President Leni Robredo (who ran separately from Duterte under the Philippines’ system) recently stated that drug use can’t be stopped “with bullets alone,” and even urged that Filipinos should “defy brazen incursions on their rights.” Noting the estimated 7,000 killed since Duterte took office last June, she added: “We are now looking at some very grim statistics.” 

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