Over the last 16 months, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has launched a ruthless and bloody ‘war on drugs.’ More than 7000 people have been killed.
It’s not the first time that the region has seen a wave of government backed extra judicial killings. Several years ago, Thailand witnessed a similar wave of bloodshed, in the name of cleaning up drugs.
From Bangkok, Kannikar Petchkaew reports on alliances being built across the region to bring the killings to an end.
Luzviminda Siapo is telling me about the day her 19 year old son was killed, 7 months ago.
He was dragged from his home by 14 masked men and shot in the head twice.
Witnesses say he was ordered to run for his life before being shot.
“He just couldn’t run, he had club feet,” Luzviminda told me.
I met Luzviminda along with The Philippines Human Rights Commissioner, Leah Tanodra-Armamento.
The pair were visiting Thailand last month, sharing stories of Filipinos killed in the country’s so-called ‘war on drugs.’
Rodrigo Duterte became President of The Philippines 16 months ago. Since then, thousands of suspected drug users and dealers have been killed in drive by shootings and random attacks, in a wave of state sanctioned violence.
President Duterte has rejected domestic and international calls for accountability. He has denied government responsibility for the deaths.
Frustrated by the lack of justice within the country, Filipino campaigners are looking abroad to find solutions.
They have connected with Filipinos living in Thailand, like Marion Cabrera.
Marion is part of a group called ANAK, or Advocacy Network Against Killings. They hope that they can learn from the Thai experience.
Thai academic and human rights advocated Sriprapha Petcharamesree met with the Filipino advocates.
She explained that in 2003, Thailand saw 2000 extrajudicial killings within just 3 months. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra declared drugs the nation’s number one enemy, and waged his own bloody campaign.
“[in] 2007 an officially investigation found that more than half of those killed had no connection whatsoever with drugs,” Petcharamesree stated.
The Filipino advocates found striking similarities between the two countries.
In both Thailand and the Philippines, strong arm leaders have spearheaded extrajudicial killings. They enjoy a large majority in parliament. Few police have been charged with the killings.
But in Thailand, Shinawatra eventually caved to domestic opposition against the killings.
Thailand’s former Minister of Justice Paiboon Koomchaya believes Thailand’s harsh crackdown was a total failure.
“Massive arrests and harsh punishment, it just lead to a massive loss of lives. And now every country faces the same problem: overcrowded jails,” he said.
Even though the killings have ended in Thailand, the problem isn’t over.
The number of inmates jailed for drug convictions in Thailand has almost doubled over the past decade.
Thailand now has the eighth-highest incarceration rate in the world according to the Institute for Criminal Policy Research, with a prison population of more than 300 thousand.
And seventy percent of them are on the inside because of drugs.
Earlier this month, Duterte announced a step back, ordering all police to end drug operations.
His bloody campaign will continue, although now it will be carried out by the Philippines Drug Enforcement Agency rather than police.
There are 10 million Filipinos working in other countries. And Marion says overseas Filipino workers, or OFW, are vowing to agitate to stop the killings from wherever they are.
“We commit to sustaining our own initiatives inside and outside the Philippines to protect our democracy and the lives of others,” Marion declared.
“We will reach out to other OFW communities to organize coordinated initiatives to hold the Duterte government accountable for its abuses and to defend the Filipino people from its own government.”
Earlier this year, Thailand shifted the focus of its drug policy towards rehabilitation, rather than incarceration.
Many hope The Philippines will eventually follow suit.