Since Duterte took office in late June, more than 6,000 people have been killed in his campaign to purge the Philippines of illegal drugs and those associated with them, according to reliable estimates by local media. The victims—suspected users and pushers—do not enjoy due process, and they are always killed at night, sometimes inside their own homes. The perpetrators are vigilantes, hired guns and likely cops too.
Duterte made no secret that this would happen. “All of you who are into drugs, you sons of bitches, I will really kill you,” he said last April, a month before he was elected. It wasn’t just campaign bluster. For 22 years Duterte had served as mayor of the southern city of Davao, where he took a pathological approach to restoring order to the city’s streets. Under his leadership, the extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals and drug users in Davao by vigilantes was practically state policy. In December, speaking to a group of businesspeople, Duterte admitted to personally killing a few himself while he was mayor. The reaction of the international community has been one of outrage and reproach: Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said on Dec. 20 that Duterte should be investigated for murder.
Duterte’s fiercest critic is Senator Leila de Lima, a former Secretary of Justice who has attempted to wage a war in the legislature against a strongman President who she says is actually “rather meek.” Duterte and his allies have struck back, and de Lima fears impeachment, arrest or worse. But, she says, “Will I stop fighting? Over my dead body.” —Nash Jenkins/Manila