Boston University

War on Drugs or War on Humanity by Asen Grigorov @ Boston University

In the last year the Philippines has experienced death toll due to the extreme anti-drug policy conducted by the current President Rodrigo Duterte. The President has established the “war on drugs” policy which has led to the killing of around 13000 people up to date . According to Aljazeera, Duerte has managed to accumulate a higher death toll than the dictator of the Philippines, in his twenty year in office. According to state information only 3,451 of all killed people were killed during police actions. The rest of the death are correlated to drug homicides carried out by vigilantes or police personnel of duty.
Almost every society has its unique problems that has to tackle. Philippines has long experienced problems with drug use and distribution. The current President of the country has attempted to resolve the crisis, but in a very undemocratic way. Duterte’s way of fighting use and distribution of drugs breaks foundational rules of democratic system. According to Robert Dahl’s “Polyarchy ”, one of the foundational rules of democratic society is freedom of choice. In addition, the President of the Philippines has abused the human rights of the criminals, which once again anti-democratic and a sign of democratic backsliding.

Tackling drug use and distribution should be every country’s priority, but not when it comes to sacrificing the democratic norms of the country. Duterte harsh laws against drug users has indeed robbed the people of freedom of choice. Drug usage might be a bad choice, but non the less a choice the every individual should make on its own. No policy could prevent a drug user to crave the drug or a regular person to desire to try it. Thus by applying harsh laws nothing is achieved, the desire and crave for drugs is still there. The banning use of drugs or alcohol (like in the Prohibition ) usually has the reverse effect and instead decreasing the use of the forbidden substance, it increases it. The harder something is to get the greater the desire to acquire it. Thus, using laws to fight drug problems is extremely ineffective and does not justify the degradation of freedom of choice in the Philippines.

Surprisingly, there is a larger problem with the “war on drugs” than violation of freedom of choice, the abuse of human rights. In the last year, Duterte has called out for violence against drug users and distributors, which has sparked a surge in police use of violent force and drug related homicides. According to human right laws, every citizen of the state should be treated equally in front of court . Unfortunately, most of the executions happen in the streets without trial and judge. Furthermore, even if the established law suggests that drug users and distributors should be punished, execution, as a form of punishment, is an extreme measure which violates human rights. No person deserves to be executed because of his choice to use or distribute drugs. This does not mean that such behavior should remain unpunished, it simply means that the punishment should be more adequate to the severity of the crime. Thus, in the case of use and distribution of drugs, no lives are harmed involuntarily. There is a consensus between the distributor and user, the user is aware of its purchase and the consequences which the use of drugs might have on him/her. Thus, a non-extremely violent crime does not deserve the death sentence. This once again signal for the backsliding of Philippines’ democracy.

Overall, the “war on drugs” as a drug-fighting policy is extremely damaging for Philippines’ democracy. It deprives its citizens of freedom of choice and violate their human rights. It also creates a large burden for society as a whole. The killings of people lead to decrease of working force. It also leads to families been left without financial support, due to the death of the person who was earning the family income. The war on drugs has led to the death of numerous civilians which were not even part of the drug users and distributors. Children has been caught in the crossfire of police and criminals. All of these consequences are as a result of Duterte “war on drugs.” Unfortunately, the consequence brought by the policy seems to be only negative and the problem with drugs still standing.


  1. Gianpaulo Pons

    November 15, 2017 at 12:10 am

    While I do agree that no law will make people stop using drugs, I do think putting some policies in place would be beneficial. You state, “no policy could prevent a drug user to crave the drug or a regular person to desire to try it,” but that’s under the assumption that everybody has knowledge of drugs. While certain drugs like alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana are fairly easy to come by, harder drugs like LSD, Opioids, and Meth may be harder to come across in a lifetime. If people are educated or don’t have knowledge on drugs, how will they crave it or want to buy it? The only way they will desire it is if they have access to it, which would be harder to come by if it’s illegal. Although there will always be distributers and drug developers in countries, if it’s out right banned then people will be less inclined to want to try it because of the legal consequences.
    I do think the Philippines take on the situation was drastic, however, and no killings should happen because of drugs. I think instead of making a “war” on drugs, there should be a focus on providing educational and medical resources for those addicted. That is something the US is terrible at. It has an incarceration fixation that cares only about putting people in jail, even if it was petty drug crimes. There is little to no empathy to the drug users in the media, which only strengthens the government’s stance on the issue.

  2. Michaela Kollin

    November 24, 2017 at 6:56 pm

    Your argument that criminalizing drug use violates a citizen’s freedom of choice is an interesting one. Certainly, we do not criminalize every dangerous activity or choice such as extreme sports, fast food or soda consumption. It’s clear the degree of harm in using or distributing illegal drugs is different from the degree of harm in those other cases, but there are those who advocate decriminalizing drug abuse and treating it as a public health crisis instead of a political act. Either way, advocating for the vigilante killings of drug abusers is clearly a violation of human rights, as you said. In her paper “Is Western Democracy Backsliding? Diagnosing the Risks,” Pippa Norris identifies the Philippines as a hybrid regime that has backslid, in part due to its populist-authoritarian leader Rodrigo Duterte. Like the populist leaders Müller describes in his book “What is Populism?” Duterte excludes specific groups from his definition of “the people,” specifically, drug users and dealers. He dehumanized them in one quote defending his support of vigilante killings of drug users, saying “Crime against humanity? In the first place, I’d like to be frank with you. Are they humans? What is your definition of a human being?” This attitude violates both their civil liberties, as you have mentioned as well the the rule of law because like you said, these killings are largely vigilante street killings that are not granted as punishment by a judge or any other legal mechanism. As a populist leader, he is an instrument of the people, but the people also become an instrument of his extra-legal War on Drugs, killing citizens who he does not view as members of “the people” as he defines it when his administration cannot kill these drug users on its own. He has also made some outrageous, Trump-esque statements about shooting someone while he was in law school and wishing he’d been the first to rape Australian missionary Jacqueline Hamill during her 1989 gang rape, undermining the democratic norms of civility and compassion during political candidacy, though these infractions pale in comparison to his encouragement of vigilante murders.

  3. Alexis Viera

    December 6, 2017 at 10:00 am

    It is impossible to argue that approval of such severe and extra-judicial measures as homicide for a whole segment of a populace is democratic, and I believe that this egregious human rights violation is the best case for calling Duterte an anti-democratic leader. Framing the case with freedom of choice is a more complex matter, which I believe is undermined in a couple of ways.

    For one, all countries, even those like Portugal that have shifted their treatment of drug offenses to public health-oriented solutions, have paternalistic legislation with regard to drug distribution and consumption. Although it is not objective truth that all illicit drugs are detrimental, it is the world-wide shared view of drugs that they are dangerous enough to merit varying, but mostly strict restrictions. Freedom of choice has never in civil societies extended to everything. One might argue that with the attitude towards the danger of drugs that motivates most legislative bodies, it is only logical that they should prescribe severe punitive measures for distributors, who might be seen as conspirators to injury of the user. These are not anti-democratic behaviors. (The extremity of Duterte’s case is noted of course, but set aside, included instead in the human rights violations argument.)

    Furthermore, freedom of choice and opportunity to signify preferences, as Dahl requires of a democracy, were preserved in Duterte’s election. He won nearly 40% of the vote in a five-person race on a platform that focused heavily on his intolerance of drug usage. Up to earlier this year, the approval rating for his handling of the drug war was at 78% according to Pew, indicating that Duterte is behaving precisely as his electorate desires. To the extent that democracy is responsiveness to the general will, Duterte is an effective democrat—a truly chilling notion.

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