A national consensus: Support for Duterte’s war vs illegal drugs even with EJKs

  • Reading time:7 mins read

IF you think about it objectively, it is astonishing.

There is massive approval for President Duterte’s war against illegal drugs, a level of support that has never occurred for any other major government initiative ever. This is despite Filipinos’ perception that the campaign has involved “extra-judicial killings,” or executions by the police of those suspected to be involved in illegal drugs—even before they are arrested and brought before the courts.

A harsh, even terrible reality that may be, but that is the national consensus, going by opinion polls.

Eighty-eight percent of Filipinos support it, according to the September poll of PulseAsia, while for Social Weather Stations, 77 percent. The person almost solely responsible for launching that war, executing it, and therefore identified with it—President Duterte—has approval ratings of 80 percent (PulseAsia) and trust ratings of 73 percent (Social Weather Stations)

Two tables from PulseAsia that point to this consensus.

The polls also provide evidence that there indeed has been a nationwide anti-drug campaign—in contrast to being just a PR operation—and that it was largely successful.

According to PulseAsia, 77 percent of its respondents reported that there were anti-illegal drug operations by the police in their barangay, and 95 percent claimed there were arrests, injured, surrenderees, and killed. Some 71 percent of Filipinos, according to the SWS, have concluded that the number of drug addicts in their locality has been reduced.

There has been such immense backing for the war against illegal drugs and for Duterte despite the fact that the Yellows and the Catholic Church have worked overtime to demonize it on grounds that the “extra-judicial killings” that occurred in the course of this campaign are unconscionable.

Two of the biggest broadsheets, the Philippine Daily Inquirer and the Philippine Star, the two TV networks ABS-CBN and GMA7, and the foreign-funded Rappler website have been especially relentless in portraying Metro Manila as having been turned into a killing field of the innocents. The PCIJ, purportedly devoted to investigative journalism, hurriedly published a supposed children’s book – a children’s book, for god’s sake – on EJK victim the teen-ager Kian de los Santos, obviously in hopes of raising outrage against the war against drugs.

Yellows’ efforts

Three months after Duterte assumed power and immediately launched his anti-drug campaign, Rappler in September fabricated a figure—7, 080—that it claimed was the number of EJKs, which naturally horrified the West. Worse, the anti-Duterte propagandists then erroneously extrapolated that invented number of EJKs, so that they claimed that by March there were 14,000 EJKs, a figure reported even by a colleague in his column in this newspaper.

With the Yellows’ efforts, I suspect especially with the help of a Filipino-American New York-based billionaire, mainstream US and European media almost turned the alleged EJKs into their crusade to expose. Rappler’s sister company the US-based news website “The Intercept” called Duterte a killer whom President Trump shouldn’t even have talked to over the phone; the Filipino female dean of a Columbia University journalism unit melodramatically labeled this presidency as “drenched in blood.”

Yet based on both the Pulse Asia and SWS surveys, Filipinos have decided to tell mainstream media, both here and abroad, the Catholic Church, and the Yellows: Go to hell.

Significant is the finding that 73 percent of Filipinos, according to PulseAsia, believe that EJKs have occurred in the course of the war vs drugs. The SWS even claimed (in a June survey) that 73 percent are “worried that they or someone they know” would be victims of EJKs.

If you think about it, it is rather astonishing. Most Filipinos are supportive of Duterte’s war against illegal drugs, yet they believe it has resulted in extra-judicial killings, and are even worried that they would be victims? How do we explain this?

Highfalutin jargon

One explanation is that most Filipinos do not really understand the meaning of the term extra-judicial killing, defined in most legal dictionaries as “the killing of a person by governmental authorities without the sanction of any judicial proceeding.”

It is highfalutin jargon that I don’t think most Filipinos can wrap their minds around. This is especially because we no longer even have “judicial killings,” i.e., capital punishment meted out by a court. The term we used during martial law, was simply “summary executions,” which evoked ruthlessness and arbitrariness.

Do you think a respondent of the SWS in an urban slum would have understood its question: “Gaano po kayo nangangamba na kayo o sino mang kilala niyo ay maging biktima ng “extrajudicial killing or EJK”? For all we know, the SWS respondent would have heard only “killing,” and sure enough he would say he’d be worried or else he’d think, he’s challenging the fates.

If the term extra-judicial killing wasn’t really understood by the pollsters’ respondents, then their reports on Filipinos’ awareness of—and worry over EJKs—are therefore useless.

The second explanation though would bring us to a hard reality: Filipinos have been so fed up with the proliferation of illegal drugs—how it has made the streets so unsafe, how it has made men so crazy as to do horrible things as rape and murder, how it has ruined families, how its main victims are the poor—that they support the executions of suspected drug dealers by the police.

Anyone who really knows the situation in our urban slums, or our rural hinterlands would know that Filipinos are so convinced that our legal processes aren’t working, that if the police stick to the judicial process, the war against illegal drugs will never be won. In the subdivision where I live, the security personnel a few years back were so worried that several resigned and vanished when they learned that two drug pushers that they had caught and turned over to the police were freed on bail, and had threatened to get back at them.

I know, I know. There would be that storm of arguments, “the end cannot justify the means”; “we cannot give up our humanity”; “that would make us uncivilized.”

I wish somebody could give us a workable, real solution, not just some abstract blah-blah about human rights. After all, we are talking about the future of 100 million Filipinos and their millions of descendants. Or perhaps, based on those polls, there is already a national consensus we just have to follow.