Recently, our president surprised many when he invited Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, to the White House. Duterte, who had called President Obama various slurs, had never been invited before and with good reason. Since taking power last year, he has executed a brutal crackdown on drug use in the Philippines resulting in the killings of thousands, some by police forces and others by vigilantes. This tragedy is literally bloodying in the streets of Manila and has been condemned by human rights organizations across the world.
How did this happen?
Last year, Duterte won the presidency of the Philippines in a close competition against some more traditional candidates. He promised a relentless war on drug use despite the fact that Filipino drug use and trafficking is well below levels seen in nearby countries. While mayor of Davao City, Duterte had been accused of relying on extra-judicial death squads to kill accused criminals and others. With his election, Duterte brought this campaign of violence to the national stage. International observers report that over seven thousand have been killed since the election.
What is happening?
Last year, a Pulitzer Prize photojournalism project by the New York Times catalogued several dozen specific instances of bloodshed around Manila. While they are graphic, we share a couple of them to capture the brutality and viciousness of this campaign.
One evening, a man was walking in a poor district in Manila, when two masked men drove by on a motorbike and shot him. They left his body in the street for his family to collect. They assert that he was not a drug dealer, just an occasional drug user who had turned himself in to authorities when the anti-drug campaign began. These types of killings have become so common; they are referred to by locals as “riding in tandem.”
Another night, thirteen year old Roel was playing video games with his uncle, who had turned himself in as a drug user, when a group of masked men barged in and took his uncle. They dragged him down an alley, where some yelled the familiar cry of “nanlaban,” which means “he’s fighting it out” or resisting. Shots rang out and the masked men scattered, leaving Roel’s uncle’s body in the alley.
What can you do about it?
In the face of carnage so far away, we often feel disconnected or powerless. However, there are a few ways we make a difference.
First, become educated on the issue. A great place to start is the New York Times article mentioned earlier.
Next, write to your local representatives and tell them to publicly condemn the killings in the Philippines. You may not hear from them immediately, but persistent pressure will let them know that this human rights issue cannot be ignored.
Finally, you can support organizations that advocate for human rights in the Philippines and around the world.
Two great ones are Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Their websites also provide more information about the violence and what they are doing to raise awareness.