Duterte’s war on drugs: Filipinos weigh in with mixed reviews

Images from the Philippines' war on drugs. (CNS layout/Images by Reauters, EPA)

Images from the Philippines’ war on drugs. (CNS layout/Images by Reauters, EPA)

By Tyler Orsburn

Filipino American History Month is October in the United States. Feelings between the Philippines and the United States have been good for a long time, although the U.S. military presence has been an ongoing source of tension among some Filipinos.

Legend has it when U.S. troops liberated the mostly Catholic country from Japanese occupation during World War II, locals swapped their home-cooked meals for GI MREs. This simple gesture of camaraderie may have been the beginning of Filipinos’ legendary fascination with corned beef and canned meats.

Today, another topic of conversation among Filipinos in and outside the country is President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drug campaign, and several shared their thoughts with Catholic News Service. Reuters reported Oct. 17 that Philippines police killed nearly 2,300 people since June 30, with another 1,300 murders by vigilantes.

Ariel Turalio, a small-business owner in Antipolo, supports Duterte’s drug policy. He told CNS his country has a massive drug addiction problem and that people want to earn easy money by pushing drugs.

“Filipinos are lucky to have a president who has the will to fight illegal drugs,” he wrote. “What will become of future generations if everyone is addicted to drugs?”

Jesuit Father Joel Tabora in Mindanao echoed those sentiments.

An alleged drug user is arrested during a police operation against illegal drugs in Manila Oct. 6.(CNS photo/Mark R. Cristino, EPA)

An alleged drug user is arrested during a police operation against illegal drugs in Manila Oct. 6.(CNS photo/Mark R. Cristino, EPA)

“Are the means unnecessarily illegitimate?” he asked the British news agency Reuters from Davao, where Duterte was mayor for 22 years. “People are dying, yes, but on the other hand, millions of people are being helped.”

Many islanders think like Turalio and the Catholic priest. According to a recent survey, Reuters reports, Duterte and his drug war command a 76 percent satisfaction rating.

But for those old enough to remember President Ferdinand E. Marcos and the 1970s, martial law may be just around Duterte’s domestic policy corner.

“Filipinos’ compassionate culture is now being corrupted by Duterte’s counterfeit war on drugs, which I suspect is just a prelude or dress rehearsal to a more violent form of martial law,” a parishioner at Santisima Trinidad Catholic Church in Manila told CNS. He said his father was incarcerated during martial law in the 1970s and ’80s, and that he will oppose it through peaceful means when it returns.

“I’m against extrajudicial killings,” wrote a former Catholic college student from Sibuyan Island. She said she believes people have the right to defend themselves through legal matters.

Back in Seattle, Washington, an 84-year-old Filipino-American is baffled by what’s going on in her motherland.

“Like most of my peers I am appalled with the way the Philippine president has dealt with the drug problem in his country,” said Dorothy Laigo Cordova, who, with her late husband, founded the Filipino American National Historical Society. “(I) seem to see a parallel with Duterte and other dictatorial leaders. He fails to realize that the Philippines needs the U.S. to help with the growing encroachment by China in the China Sea.”

On Oct. 19, the Philippine president, accompanied by hundreds of business leaders, was in Beijing to discuss what he called a new commercial alliance.

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