SALT LAKE CITY – Since Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte took office at the end of June, an ABS-CBN investigative report shows that more than 1,500 people have been killed by police and vigilantes in a sweeping crackdown on illegal drugs.
The situation has captured the attention of the international community, including Erika George, a University of Utah law professor with a background in international human rights.
“What we are hearing about in the international media are extrajudicial killings,” George said. “We’re hearing about law and order that’s gone lawless, and that’s deeply distressing to anyone who is concerned about human dignity and liberty.”
Referencing the decision by the Philippine Senate to demote Duterte critic Sen. Leila de Lima, George is also concerned about the people’s right to dissent.
“Authoritarianism 101 – you start to remove your critics,” she said. “That means we don’t have dissent. We don’t have debate. And you can’t have a meaningful democracy without that.”
She adds that Duterte’s goal of keeping society orderly and secure is commendable but hopes to see more adherence to human rights principles, due process and rule of law.
“We have to appeal to our higher instincts, even in fighting crime,” George said. “There isn’t a blank check to do whatever by any means necessary, particularly when the consequences are so permanent, dire and premature death in so many instances.”
Reactions among Filipinos in Utah regarding the war on drugs are sharply divided. While some share the same opinion as George, others say they support President Duterte’s efforts.
“It’s not an easy task that he’s undertaking right now,” Duterte supporter Dinah Olino said. “But he’s willing to give his all.”
Olino also agrees with the Senate’s decision to remove de Lima from her post, citing the House of Representatives’ investigation of the alleged drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison.
“All these things that have been going on in the Bilibid Prison – it’s coming out what [de Lima] has really done, that’s she’s a protector of the drug lords,” she said.
And despite allegations of extrajudicial killings, Olino believes Duterte is justly handling the drug war and doing what needs to be done.
“He’s going to instill discipline among the Filipinos,” she said. “And I think that will pave the way for our progress as a whole.”