Duterte’s War on Drugs: The Mortal Fight Against Narcotics

By Sofia Rojas, 10th Grade

Since taking office in 2016, former Filipino president, Rodrigo Duterte,  has carried out a massive “war on drugs”, which has spiked major discontent among the inhabitants, leading to an outbreak of protests. Let’s break down a few issues. What exactly is the war on drugs? And how is it killing the Filipino population?

The former president oversaw an anti-drug campaign known as the “War on Drugs” in the Philippines. Duterte aimed to end drug use and distribution nationwide with this law enforcement campaign. However, since the police allegedly carried out extrajudicial killings, there has been a strong pushback against this national political campaign. According to reports, at least 12,500 Filipino citizens have died as a consequence of the drug war. The magnitude of such fatalities is so severe that in only one police operation in 2017, more than seven alleged drug affiliates got murdered. Duterte has been aggravated about the anti-drug agenda due to the increasing usage of narcotics in the population. According to the Filipino drug agency, more than 1.8 million adults are active drug users. Additionally, more than 4.8 million Filipino adults admitted to using at least one illegal substance in their lifetime. Based on these astonishing statistics, it is estimated that yearly 2.8% of the population consumes methamphetamine-driven stimulants. 

The narcotizing crisis has led Duterte to dehumanize those suspected of drug distribution or consumption. In Duterte’s logic, the large-scale slaughter of drug users is justified since it’s a war against the “scum of society”. Moreover, this erroneous view is shared by many of the top officials in the Philippines. When Amnesty International released a report about the crimes against humanity being committed by Duterte, Justice secretary Vitiliano Aguirre II explained that the drug users being killed are not “humanity” and later questioned if they are really “human beings”.  The same is endorsed by the New York Times, which states the following “the dehumanization of drug users is not just a thing of the distant past. In the 1980s and ’90s, crack-cocaine users were routinely described as “fiends” — and police described routing users and dealers as a way to “sanitize” a community.” 

Additionally, the war on drugs not only dehumanizes citizens but criminalizes the poor and vulnerable of Filipino society. While many critics condemn the majority of the victims as poor, Duterte claims that killing the poor who get quick money from selling drugs is necessary in destroying the apparent threat.  However, many of the victims killed by Duterte’s brutal tyranny were mere drug users, not dealers. The same is supported by Human Rights Watch which states that “Almost all the victims were either unemployed or worked menial jobs, including as rickshaw drivers or porters, and lived in slum neighborhoods or informal settlements”. Nonetheless, Duterte claims the reason the poor have to be targeted is because of their supposed ignorance. He states, “I haven’t heard of the children of [billionaires] Lucio Tan or Gokongwei selling drugs. Of course, it will be the poor people, because the poor are ignorant and more likely to be hit.” 

The targeting of poor households has led many Filipinos to question the real intentions of the conducted war. In a national poll, 60% of Filipinos agreed that only poor drug pushers were being penalized and targeted. Following with 28% of contestants assure the police are lying about the extrajudicial killings. 

It is important to note that nobody deserves to be killed for a struggle they have encountered in their lifetime. Duterte has proven the extent a president can go to silence a nation instead of working for it. 


Lu, J. (2017, March 27). Duterte: ‘Of course’ poor are biggest casualty in drug war. Humanosphere.  https://www.humanosphere.org/human-rights/2017/03/duterte-course-poor-biggest-casualty-drug-war/

Human Rights Consequences of the “War on Drugs” in the Philippines. (2020, October 28). Human Rights Watch. https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/07/20/human-rights-consequences-war-drugs-philippines

Khahir S. (n.d) Who are Duterte’s real victims? The ASEAN Post. https://theaseanpost.com/article/who-are-dutertes-real-victims

Staff, R. (2017, October 2). Most Filipinos believe drug war kills poor people only, survey shows. U.S. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-philippines-drugs-idUSKCN1C71HH


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s