A policeman in Manila investigates the scene where the body of an alleged drug user lies after being killed by unidentified assailants on 8 December 2017. Photo: Getty Images.

After winning a landslide victory in June 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines immediately fulfilled a campaign promise and instigated a so-called ‘war on drugs.’ He publicly endorsed the arrest and killing of suspected drug users and sellers, even going so far as to promise the police there would be no repercussions for their actions.

International human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, have documented that 3,906 suspected drug users and dealers died at the hands of the police from 1 July 2016 to 26 September 2017 while unidentified gunmen have killed thousands more, bringing the total death toll to more than 12,000.…  Seguir leyendo »

A protester covered his mouth with tape on Wednesday during a protest for press freedom in Manila. (Rolex dela Pena/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has never gotten along with the press. Three media companies have incurred his particular ire: the ABS-CBN television and radio network, the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper, and the news website Rappler. At one time or another, each has offended Duterte by reporting on his ongoing drug war, his personal finances, or even his personal history. He has denounced all three outlets during his trademark vitriolic speeches.

On January 11, the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission issued a decision, declaring that Rappler had violated the Philippine Constitution’s requirement of 100 percent Filipino ownership for media companies.…  Seguir leyendo »

On Monday, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte asked Congress to extend martial law — for a second time — in his home region of Mindanao. Two days later, Congress did just that. Mindanao is a restive southern province and home to 94 percent of the country’s Muslim population. Martial law is part of Duterte’s plan to ensure the “total eradication” of Islamist extremists — but this approach can backfire. Here’s why.

Why did Duterte first declare martial law?

In May, Duterte declared 60 days of martial law after security forces raided a suspected terrorist hideout. The raid was a failure: Instead of capturing the leader of the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, Philippine troops found themselves in a firefight with different Islamists, the Maute group.…  Seguir leyendo »

On Oct. 23, the defense secretary of the Philippines, Delfin Lorenzana, announced the end of combat operations in the southern city of Marawi, after the armed forces spent 154 days fighting local and regional Islamist terrorists. At last, victory — of a sort.

Marawi, which declared itself an “Islamic city” in 1980, is the capital of Lanao del Sur province, on the island of Mindanao, and the religious center of the Maranao, a tight-knit indigenous Muslim community. Marawi and the Maranao have been at the forefront of a decades-long insurgency against the central government in Manila. In recent years, however, disgruntled factions have splintered off, some embracing gangsterism or Islamist terrorism.…  Seguir leyendo »

Yen Makabenta, a veteran journalist now at The Manila Times, wrote a prominent column last month about the American ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, who enthusiastically praised President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines. “The Philippines is suffocating,” Mr. Makabenta quoted the ambassador as saying. “We must give President Duterte the space to run his nation.” Ms. Haley, he reported, warned of “destructive forces” that “have calibrated their plot to ouster movements” against Mr. Duterte.

Mr. Duterte no doubt appreciated Ms. Haley’s support. The only problem: It wasn’t true. Mr. Makabenta had based his column on a fake story from a website whose web address, grammatical errors and far-fetched assertions should have made clear that it was a counterfeit of Al Jazeera.…  Seguir leyendo »

Rodrigo Duterte is not to blame for the thousands of Filipinos killed during the 15 months of his presidency. That’s what his supporters claim. His popularity is pitched as proof of his mandate, and his iconoclasm is cast as an effective antidote to a dilapidated democracy that has always thrived on inequality.

Many of the president’s actions, however, remain indefensible. But he is not the only one to blame.

Mr. Duterte’s allies in the government, his die-hard supporters and well-rewarded propagandists — the cogs in his political machinery — have been revved up to great momentum. Their drive to quash opposition has been taken up with a righteous zeal that may outpace even the president.…  Seguir leyendo »

Native to the Philippines is a tart fruit called the balimbing. Ridges down the length of its oblong sides give it multiple faces, which is why many of our politicians are colloquially compared to it. Such criticism of our rulers’ kaleidoscopic loyalties is usually apt, and it’s always uttered with contempt.

Last year, Rodrigo Duterte won the presidency under the slogan “Change is coming.” But the corruption and deception of those under him belie that promise. Mr. Duterte’s policies and methods have caused controversy worldwide, yet it is the chronic dysfunction and selfish ambition across the political spectrum that most prevent the changes we Filipinos deserve.…  Seguir leyendo »

Flaviano Villanueva, 47, entered the priesthood in his 30s after leading a fast life fueled by drugs and alcohol. So late last year, when a small-time drug dealer approached him in his rectory in one of Manila’s oldest districts, the Roman Catholic priest, recalling his own checkered past, could not turn her away.

“She was a member of a notorious gang that sells shabu in this area,” the priest told me recently, using the local term for crystal meth. “They were a gang of six. Four had already been killed. She came to me crying, ‘Father, can you hide me?’ ” She feared she might soon join the thousands of Filipinos who have been gunned down since President Rodrigo Duterte sanctioned the wanton killing of drug suspects.…  Seguir leyendo »

Filipinas y España han celebrado, como cada 30 de junio desde hace quince años, el Día de la Amistad. Se celebra junto a la iglesia del pequeño pueblo de Baler, capital de la provincia de Aurora, allí donde en 1898 un reducido destacamento de medio centenar de soldados españoles fue sitiado por los revolucionarios filipinos y donde sostuvieron un asedio de casi un año, haciendo gala de una capacidad de sacrificio extrema.

El hecho de que una celebración así apenas tenga equivalente para con una antigua metrópoli, invita a la reflexión. Fue iniciativa de un senador filipino, Edgardo Angara, natural de Baler, y se celebra en la fecha en que el que fuera presidente de la malograda primera república de Filipinas, Emilio Aguinaldo, firmara un decreto reconociendo a los supervivientes del sitio de Baler como amigos, no como prisioneros de guerra.…  Seguir leyendo »

On Saturday morning, in a sunny conference hall to the side of Baclaran Church, among the slums of southern Metro Manila, several dozens of Filipino teenagers and adults held up sheets of paper on which they’d written their dreams. “To study.” “To be a chef.” “To find permanent work.”

They sat cross-legged and barefoot in groups of three or four, their flip-flops and sneakers, soles thinned from wear, waiting beside them. They smiled as they read out their answers. At the back of the room, a group of about 20 toddlers and children ran around and skidded, and sent fidget spinners whirring across the floor.…  Seguir leyendo »

Shortly after Muslim extremists affiliated with the Islamic State laid siege to Marawi, a city in the southern Philippines, on May 23, President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law for 60 days across the island of Mindanao. Citing the presence of foreigners among the fighters and the risk of an “invasion”, he said he might extend martial law to the entire country if that was necessary “to protect the people.”

And just like that, it seems, tens of millions of Filipinos woke up to the twin threat of the Islamic State and of a potential return to unfettered authoritarianism. Democracy in the Philippines seems to be at its most fragile point in years.…  Seguir leyendo »

On the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, 21 million people are living under martial law. President Rodrigo Duterte declared 60 days of martial law on May 23 after troops and police failed to apprehend Isnilon Hapilon, a terrorist leader who has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State. The military is bombing Marawi City and sending soldiers street by street to ferret out those suspected of being part of Hapilon’s militant network. As of June 5, more than 180 people had been killed in clashes between security forces and terrorists, with more at risk every day.

A declaration of martial law under these conditions seems reasonable.…  Seguir leyendo »

For about two weeks now, dozens of Islamist militants have faced off against the Philippine armed forces in the city of Marawi, on the southern island of Mindanao, where most of the Philippines’ Muslim minority lives. The pitched battle, which is unusually fierce even by the standards of this conflict-prone part of the country, indicates that the Islamic State is now also a Southeast Asian problem and that the Philippine government may be the region’s weak link in addressing it.

While President Rodrigo Duterte focused his energies during his first year in office on waging a brutal campaign against suspected drug dealers and users, a motley coalition supporting the Islamic State — former guerrillas, university students, scions of political families, Christian converts to Islam — grew into a fighting force with surprising staying power.…  Seguir leyendo »

Over the weekend, President Trump provoked an avalanche of criticism at home and abroad by extending a formal invitation to his Filipino counterpart, Rodrigo Duterte, to visit the White House. The two leaders are reported to have had a “very friendly conversation” by phone, prompting denunciations by human rights groups and the liberal establishment in both America and the Philippines.

To the chagrin even of administration officials, the White House, in a statement announcing the invitation, appeared not only to play down Mr. Duterte’s brutal crackdown on illegal drugs — which rights groups say has claimed 1,000 lives a month since it started last July — but also went so far as to praise his efforts to rid his country of drugs.…  Seguir leyendo »

In one jail here, 91 men share a cell so small they take turns sitting down. It’s dizzyingly hot, and there are only two buckets for personal hygiene. And not one of the detainees has been convicted of a crime.

The 93 men packed into the cell next door are also not guilty — at least not yet. Nobody in this city jail has been tried. Each awaits his time in court. One inmate tells me his case has already stretched nearly five years. Many others have been here several months, since President Rodrigo Duterte began his war on drugs a little less than a year ago.…  Seguir leyendo »

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has vowed to continue his “war on drugs” in spite of growing calls for an investigation into his role in it.

On March 6, the Philippine government lifted its suspension on police anti-drug operations. The suspension had been imposed in January following revelations that anti-drug police had kidnapped and killed a South Korean businessman.

Philippine National Police Director-General Ronald dela Rosa has christened this new phase of the drug war Project Double Barrel Alpha, Reloaded, and has said it will be “less bloody, if not bloodless” than that of the previous eight months.

That bloodshed is unquestionable: police and “unidentified gunmen” have killed more than 7,000 suspected drug users and drug dealers since July 2016.…  Seguir leyendo »

Solo hubo cinco muertos. Fue una noche tranquila.

Los reporteros del turno nocturno cuentan que así son los viernes. Los asesinatos han tomado un ritmo predecible en esta densa metrópolis de casi 13 millones de personas. Entre semana hay más ajetreo, generalmente hay una docena de cadáveres antes del amanecer. Un reportero me comentó que el récord era de 27 en una noche. Los fines de semana hay más calma, ya que los que cubren estos reportajes van a los velorios y funerales de las víctimas o dan seguimiento a testigos y otras fuentes.

Durante los ocho meses que lleva Rodrigo Duterte en la presidencia, los reportajes sobre la guerra contra las drogas han consternado al mundo y a Filipinas, aunque los partidarios del presidente dicen que las noticias son tendenciosas y que los asesinatos son necesarios.…  Seguir leyendo »

Only five people had turned up dead. It was a slow evening.

The journalists on the night shift say Fridays are like that. A predictable rhythm has developed to the killings in this dense metropolis of nearly 13 million. Weekdays are busier, often producing a dozen bodies before morning. One reporter told me the record was 27 one night. Weekends are more tranquil, which is when those who cover this beat attend wakes and funerals of victims, or follow up with witnesses and other sources.

In the eight months of Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency, reports on the drug war have caused concern around the world and in the Philippines, though the president’s supporters cast the news as biased and the killings as necessary.…  Seguir leyendo »

Las drogas ilegales son un asunto de seguridad nacional, pero la guerra en su contra no se puede ganar nada más con las fuerzas armadas ni los organismos de justicia. Enviar más soldados y policías contra los consumidores de drogas no solo es una pérdida de dinero, sino que además puede empeorar el problema. Encerrar a los delincuentes no violentos y a los adictos casi siempre resulta contraproducente, ya que se acaba por fortalecer a la delincuencia organizada.

Tal es el mensaje que me gustaría enviar al mundo y, en especial, al presidente Rodrigo Duterte de Filipinas. Créame, aprendí a la mala.…  Seguir leyendo »

Illegal drugs are a matter of national security, but the war against them cannot be won by armed forces and law enforcement agencies alone. Throwing more soldiers and police at the drug users is not just a waste of money but also can actually make the problem worse. Locking up nonviolent offenders and drug users almost always backfires, instead strengthening organized crime.

That is the message I would like to send to the world and, especially, to President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines. Trust me, I learned the hard way.

We Colombians know a thing or two about fighting drugs. Our country has long been one of the world’s primary suppliers of cocaine.…  Seguir leyendo »