By Sophia Simeone
International News Editor
Faced with UN sanctions, an internal congressional investigation, and the condemnation of the international community, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte still refuses to suspend his war on drugs.
“I will not stop until the last pusher in the street is exterminated,” said Duterte last Monday, speaking to a crowd in the city of Davao. “I promise you I will suppress criminality, whether there will be a thousand investigations or Ban Ki Moon comes here. I really don’t give a shit.”
Duterte was elected President on June 30. A tougher stance on drugs was the central pillar of his campaign—Duterte claimed that once elected, the nation would be drug-free within “three to six months.” In the four months since his inauguration, Philippines police have reported roughly 3,400 drug-related killings.
These killings bear resemblance to those carried out in the city of Davao during Duterte’s twenty-eight-year tenure as mayor. Critics claim that “Davao Death Squads” answerable to Duterte carried out the vigilante murders of 1,000 criminal suspects and political opponents while he was in office.
As international leaders and institutions urge Manila to put a stop to extrajudicial executions, Duterte has maintained his public defiance—often in colorful fashion. In August, Duterte threatened to withdraw from the UN (which he called “stupid and useless”) after the organization criticized his human rights practices. Early in September, he made a well-publicized remark referring to President Barack Obama as a “son of a whore.” And when the parliament of the European Union called for restraint in his crackdown on drugs, he responded with a succinct “fuck you,” adding the middle finger for emphasis.
Despite his infamy abroad, Duterte retains a high level of popularity within the Philippines. His trust rating is a record 91 percent.
Doubtless, his law-and-order stance on drugs appeals to a country ravaged by addiction. According to the 2011 UN World Drug Report, the Philippines has the highest methamphetamine abuse rate in East Asia—2.1 percent of the population aged 16 to 24 are addicted to the drug.
“The criminals, they fear him,” Davao-based journalist Edith Caduaya told NPR on Friday. “But the law-abiding citizens, they love him.”
While he may benefit from popular support at home, the flagrancy with which Duterte defends his war on drugs overseas may have unfavorable consequences for the Philippines’ economy. Over the past month, foreign investors have withdrawn an estimated $400 million from the Manila exchange. However, it might be safe to assume that these consequences will not deter Duterte—when it comes to what foreigners think of him, it’s well documented that he “doesn’t give a shit.”