Why do people support the drug war?
It puzzles and shocks critics of President Duterte. Notwithstanding the thousands of corpses that piled up as a result of his bloody war on drugs, the President still earned high trust ratings in four-quarter surveys during the first year of his presidency.
From June 2016 to June 2017, Social Weather Stations (SWS) surveys showed Mr. Duterte consistently earning high trust ratings: 84 percent in June 2016, 83 percent in September 2016, 81 percent in December 2016, 80 percent in March 2017, and 78 percent in June 2017.
These high trust ratings coincided with the period when thousands of people died in police and masked-vigilante operations. The killings have been marked by reports of mistaken identities, collateral damage, and arrests of eyewitnesses under trumped-up charges and as means to silence them.
Since the last survey in June 2017, however, three teenaged boys have been killed under outrageous circumstances. The deaths of 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos, 19-year-old Carl Angelo Arnaiz, and 14-year-old Reynaldo de Guzman have drawn strong condemnation even from some supporters of the President.
The despicable manner by which the three young men died must have dented the President’s trust rating, but as to what extent we will only know when the next survey results come out. Yet, judging by how his diehard supporters continue to zealously defend him, one gets the sense that he continues to enjoy substantial backing.
Why does the President continue to enjoy the trust and support of many people despite the increasing incidents of unlawful killings and terrible abuses by policemen?
The most plausible answer to this question comes from my colleague at the Center for International Law (Centerlaw), Cristina Antonio. Centerlaw represents a number of families of victims of extrajudicial killing in the current war on drugs.
It filed the first legal challenge against “Operation Tokhang,” and managed to obtain a writ of amparo that gives protection to the families of four men who were killed by policemen in Payatas, Quezon City, and the lone survivor, Efren Morillo.
Antonio has extensively interacted with victims’ families. She has observed that in urban poor communities which experience unlawful killings, the people put the blame entirely on abusive policemen. The assignment of liability does not reach the President. For them, unlawful killings happen because crooked policemen violate the President’s orders.
Many residents of poor communities are supportive of Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs because a lot of those killed are real drug couriers and drug dependents who are notorious for having long paralyzed their neighborhoods with fear. I have heard of urban poor people applauding the killing of drug pushers who had freely been plying their trade since the Marcos era.
It is not far from the truth to approximate that out of every ten people killed by the police and masked vigilantes, nine are real drug personalities who have long destroyed peace and order in local communities. The feeling of relief brought about by the killings of these drug personalities outweighs the fear engendered by the few killings of innocent civilians.
For the President’s critics, it is not enough to persistently argue that the killings are unlawful and inhuman. Calling his supporters nasty names like “bobo” and “idiots” does not win converts but hardens hostility. And it does not help that many of the critics live in gated communities.
For opponents of the violent war on drugs, a wholesale condemnation of the drug campaign does not sway support away from the President. It is interpreted as a denial of the benefits of peace that the campaign has brought to drug-infested communities.
The campaign to stop the unlawful killings must acknowledge the need for a drug campaign, but insist on the necessity of detailed solutions and particularized proposals that will prevent rogue policemen from becoming rampaging murderers.
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