Few nations know the horrors of a sustained war on terror as does Sri Lanka. Between 1983 and 2009 Sri Lanka authorities faced an insurgency led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) that cost over 100,000 lives. As the narcotics trade remains one of the most valuable sources of funding for terror groups throughout the world, there is a clear and necessary link between governments stopping the proliferation and trafficking of drugs on the one hand and neutralising armed extremists on the other. Against this background, it unsurprising that Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena said the following about Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during his recent visit to Manila:
“Excellency, the war against crime and drugs carried out by you is an example to the whole world, and personally to me. The drug menace is rampant in my country and I feel that we should follow your footsteps to control this hazard”.
Sri Lanka remains a nation in which capital punishment is available as a means of correcting the social wrongs of the criminal element involved in the narcotics trade. Whilst the Philippine House of Representatives has voted to reinstate capital punishment in The Philippines, thus bringing the country back in-line with just about every other Asian nation, the obstructionist Philippine Senate has delayed the implementation of this bill.
Even so, Duterte has used the resources available to him as part of a holistic crackdown on the narcotics plague that threatened to bring The Philippines to its knees. By targeting dealers, traffickers, violent and anti-social drug users, politicians at a local and national level who have perversely profited from the drug trade and police officers who have disgustingly profited from the drug trade – all the while offering medical programmes to those who turn themselves in to the authorities, Duterte has worked to make The Philippines a safer country than the one he inherited upon his election to the presidency in 2016.
Duterte’s tough drug policies have been praised by political figures in Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and even by US President Donald Trump. Duterte’s holistic approach to narcotics remains not only popular among Filipinos but among those from around the world who realise the dangers of the narcotics trade to the safety, economic viability and social cohesion of nations throughout the world.
In spite of this, powerful organisations and media outlets have pumped substantial funds into attempting to misrepresent and slander Duterte’s people-centred anti-drug campaign.
While many only discovered the Philippine President’s hard-line against what ought to be called narco-terrorism in 2016, in reality Duterte has been waging a war on the drug trade and drug culture since he first became mayor of his hometown of Davao City in 1988. Duterte realised early on in his political career that drugs not only destroyed individuals but had a negative effect on society as a whole.
For those in the west where marijuana legalisation is becoming increasingly common and therefore associate Duterte’s drug war with some sort of 20th century US style war on marijuana, one should note that the drug problem in The Philippines centres around a particularly potent and explicitly dangerous form of meth known as Shabu. Individuals on Shabu are a danger not only to themselves but to their families and strangers. Shabu takers are widely known and feared due to the fact they commit the most gruesome crimes against humanity throughout the nation.
From armed theft to random murder and breaking into family homes and raping everything from infants to the elderly, those on Shabu are transformed into horrific monsters that no society should have to deal with. This is a far cry from the ‘weed culture’ of certain countries and to this end, Duterte has voiced a position in favour of legalising medical marijuana.
But when it comes to hard drugs like Shabu which have turned once peaceful towns and cities into war zones reminiscent of something in Yemen or Syria, Duterte has taken a zero-tolerance, hands on approach to the drug problem which remains one of his most popular policies in a country crying out for human rights for the normal law abiding citizens.
It should be further stated that Duterte has never given so-called “shoot to kill orders” but has insisted that when a suspect is a clear and present danger to those around him, police and civilians have the right to restrain a dangerous individual with lethal force as a last resort in order to avoid the bloodshed of innocent people. Duterte has further expanded rehabilitation programs for those who voluntarily turn themselves in or are peacefully apprehended- thus proving that the “death squad” narrative is not only taken out of context but is totally misrepresented by many so-called journalists.
Finally, as the Shabu trade fuels violent armed gangs of mafioso warlords as well as terrorist groups ranging from the far-left NPA to Takfiri groups aligned with Daesh (ISIS), Duterte has done a service to the wider global war against terrorism by attacking a crucial funding source for barbaric terrorism.
When one therefore understands the reality of Duterte’s drug war rather than the myths that are often intentionally told about the drug war in The Philippines, it becomes easier to understand why throughout much of the world, Duterte is seen as nothing short of a towering inspiration.