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The gathering storm

A storm of resistance is forming against President Duterte’s war on drugs amid reports of continued extrajudicial killings and state refusal to an independent probe. Outrage has been expressed in nationwide protests and international pressure to stop the killing of drug suspects, most of them poor.

Last week, 39 member-states of the United Nations Human Rights Council called on the administration to end and investigate the EJKs and to allow UN Special Rapporteur on Summary Executions Agnes Callamard to conduct an inquiry. The call was made in Geneva as the Philippine delegation adopted only 40 percent (or 103) of the 257 recommendations under the UN council’s universal period review. Of the council’s 47 member-states, 45 deplored the rejection of 154 proposals aimed at addressing “serious human rights violations” including intimidation of rights defenders.

Next, a group of lawyers petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to compel the Philippine National Police, Department of Justice, and Commission on Human Rights to look into the EJKs. “Time is of the essence,” the lawyers said in urging the high court to act swiftly on their petition. Also, 16 senators filed a resolution calling on the government to stop the killings, especially of children and minors.

On top of the drug killings are the 88 activists and community leaders slain in anti-insurgency operations since August 2016. Airstrikes enforcing the President’s “flatten the mountains” order against the New People’s Army led to the evacuation of thousands of farmers in Abra, Batangas, and in other towns in the Visayas and Mindanao.

The backlash on the war on drugs that has turned the country into “killing fields” and the impunity in the anti-insurgency operations in just one year are unprecedented. A grave concern is that unless checked, the killings—drug-related or politically motivated—will be unrelenting given the immunity tacit in Mr. Duterte’s vow to protect the agencies in charge of the drug and anti-insurgency wars—the PNP and the military. The executive branch seems unperturbed by recent survey findings showing that nearly 60 percent of Filipinos don’t buy the drug killings as the result of defensive police operations.

Against the collective condemnation of the killings, the administration has reacted defiantly—denying state-sponsored killings, describing the charges as political meddling, harassing rights defenders, and threatening to abolish the CHR. Last week it finally agreed to a UN probe, but with such a catch as to make any inquiry futile: Callamard, who it claims to have prejudged the issue, won’t be welcome. But such stonewalling only fuels public suspicion that the government is hiding the truth.

Signaling the erosion of public trust in the war on drugs was the Sept. 21 massive protest rally led by the Movement against Tyranny at Rizal Park and similar actions held nationwide. While EJKs, martial law in Mindanao, and tyrannical rule were the rallying points, the mass indignation resonated in multiple voices denouncing the lack of institutional reform, corruption, job losses, a farcical foreign policy, recycled economic policies, and other issues. Attempts by intimidation and impeachment to replace the Ombudsman and the Chief Justice with administration appointees will further inflame public fury.

The nation may as well take stock of the fact that Mr. Duterte’s governance is flawed. This is made clear, for example, in his 24/7 fixation on the drug problem as a national priority without addressing its socioeconomic roots, in sowing fear instead of building the public trust he had pledged to restore, in promoting neoliberal policies as opposed to fundamental reforms, and in scrapping the reform-driven peace talks with the Left because his security cluster said so.

In the months ahead, as the public sympathy that catapulted the Davao City mayor to the presidency begins to crumble and as frustration catches up with the middle-class voters that put him in office, Mr. Duterte will find himself facing a creeping political isolation. But he seems oblivious to any writing on the wall.

Bobby M. Tuazon is director for policy studies of CenPEG, teaches at UP, and has edited and coauthored 15 books.

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