03/16/2022, 14.50
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Duterte's 'war on drugs' enters its final phase

by Stefano Vecchia

The outgoing president says the war will be less gruesome, centred on outreach and rehabilitation. Civil society groups fear it will still be marked by abuse and violence. Independent sources estimate that the crackdown claimed at least 30,000 lives in the past six years.

Milan (AsiaNews) – The "war on drugs” by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is changing gear, from summary executions to rehabilitation, but still largely entrusted to the police.

The new approach will focus on reaching out to drug addicts and their families as well as drug dealers arrested the past six years or who voluntarily surrendered to law enforcement for fear of lethal reprisals.

Duterte, who cannot run again and whose term of office ends after the next presidential elections on 9 May, launched his war at the start of his election campaign in 2016.

Expressing a desire to rid the country of the scourge of drug addiction, which is estimated to affect two million people, he carried out a violent crackdown against political opponents, non-governmental organisations, independent media and religious leaders.

The international community repeatedly spoke out against the most brutal practices used by the outgoing president, which caused at least 8,000 extrajudicial executions, perhaps up to 30,000 according to independent sources.

Disappearances, arbitrary arrests and searches have pushed a million Filipinos to turn themselves in to the authorities to avoid worse consequences; the country’s already infamous and overcrowded prisons saw an influx of 300,000 people arrested directly by the police.

Faced with this unmanageable situation, difficult to explain for his daughter Sara, candidate for the vice-presidency, and the frontrunner in the presidential campaign, Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr, son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Duterte decided to switch to a less brutal end-of-term strategy, even if it will hardly be enough to mend relations with civil society.

The Plan Double-Barrel Finale Version 2022 campaign, presented by Philippines National Police (PNP) chief, General Dionardo Carlos, is meant to show greater humanity towards suspects. It will be based on outreach programme accompanied by operations of persuasion and rehabilitation, without however changing the goal of eradicating drug addiction.

This seeming change of heart has not impressed those groups that have been critical from the start of the use of force and arbitrariness against people, usually from the poorest strata of society, who legally at least were innocent until proven guilty.

For example, for Karapatan, a human rights coalition, the idea of "persuasion", in a context in which the police will be able to act with greater leeway following the lifting of pandemic restrictions, simply means more of the same abuse and violence.

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