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EDITORIAL: Duterte’s ‘War on Drugs’

The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC) put a spotlight recently on the controversial subject of “extra-judicial killings” in the Philippines.

The Commission (formerly known as the Congressional Human Rights Caucus) aims “to promote, defend and advocate internationally recognized human rights norms in a nonpartisan manner, both within and outside of Congress, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant human rights instruments.” As an investigative body, it makes recommendations to policy makers and legislators.

Officially, the hearing on July 20 was billed as “The Human Rights Consequences of the War on Drugs in the Philippines.” It featured a panel of human rights activists and advocates who provided policy recommendations for “ensuring accountability for human rights violations and for addressing the problems of drug abuse and trafficking in ways consistent with promoting public health and strengthening rule of law.”

In his opening remarks, TLHRC Co-Chair James P. McGovern (D-Mass.), noted that “Although extrajudicial killings have been a major human rights concern for some time, in its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016, the Department of State recognized that such killings increased sharply over the last year. According to Philippine National Police (PNP) statistics, 7,025 drug-related killings were carried out between July 1, 2016, when Duterte assumed office, and January 21, 2017 – an average of 34 per day.”

Because the Philippines is a U.S. treaty ally, and the largest recipient of U.S. assistance in East Asia, McGovern stated that Duterte’s “antidrug” campaign and reports of extrajudicial killings “raise questions about how the United States should balance its concerns for protecting human rights and the rule of law with its desire to maintain the bilateral alliance and continue to pursue other shared goals.”

Witnesses called on the Duterte administration to address the root causes of crime and drugs and rely less on punitive measures. They maintained that rehabilitation efforts, “harm-reduction programs,” and a public health-centered approach to the drug problem are far more effective in the long run.

More congressional hearings on this matter are expected, with witnesses from both sides of the debate. Clearly, a fair and objective public discussion is needed.

We need more light than heat.


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