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Killa in Manila

The Philippines cracks down on cannabis and those who use it

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte:  "I will kill all the drug lords."
  • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte: "I will kill all the drug lords."

And you thought things were bad in the United States.

Philippine president-cum-dictator Rodrigo Duterte (nicknamed "the Punisher" for allegations that, as the mayor of Davao, he directed "death squads" to kill criminal suspects without due process) has made good on his promise to eradicate drugs and drug users from his country. "I will not stop until the last pusher on the streets is fully exterminated," he said last month. "I will kill all the drug lords. Make no bones about it."

Police and vigilantes, with the president's support ("If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself," he told a crowd in Manila after his election in May), have committed nearly 3,500 extrajudicial killings of suspected drug traffickers so far. Hundreds of thousands of people, according to a state police report, have also "surrendered voluntarily" rather than risk being murdered for possession of methamphetamine, called shabu, or cannabis (the two most-confiscated substances during arrests).

Confusingly, Duterte says he'd endorse medical marijuana if his country's Food and Drug Administration approved of its use. "Medicinal marijuana — yes, because it is really an ingredient of modern medicine now," he explained to reporters in May.

The president's "shoot-to-kill" policy, however, is a cornerstone of his anti-crime, peace-and-order agenda, which Filipinos have championed. But many worry, rightfully, that the strongman's fearmongering campaign of slaughter will prove lethal to the island nation's fragile democracy. (As recently as 1986 the Philippines was ruled by the despot Ferdinand Marcos, whom Duterte has called "the best president ever.")

"We're on a slippery slope towards tyranny," Leila de Lima, a Filipino senator, told TIME magazine in August. She later admitted, "We now have death squads on a national scale, but I'm not seeing public outrage."

Perhaps that is because many fear the repercussions of protest. As one man anonymously revealed to the Huffington Post, "With [Duterte] as president, it's been a reign of terror, as close as we can get to undeclared martial law. Pretty soon, this war on drugs will become a war on dissent."

"I don't care about human rights, believe me," Duterte has boasted. Innocents and children gunned down inadvertently in his "Double Barrel" operation are "collateral damage," he explained to Al Jazeera earlier this month. And, he implied in the same interview, because the budget doesn't allow for the construction of rehabilitation centers, it is best that addicts are hunted down instead.

"I'd like to be frank with you," Duterte once asked. "Are they [drug users] humans? What is your definition of a human being?" ♦