The Duterte Drug War Campaign

(December 2016)

It has been six months since the President assumed office. The 2016 national election became the hallmark of a new era in Philippine history with the former Davao city mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte, the now executive of this nation-state taking the highest position in the land. He has been very vocal about the drug war campaign as one of his advocacies even before the election. Now, the Filipino nation is experiencing an extensive campaign against illegal drugs which cost thousands of lives already.

As of December 2016, the Philippine National Police (PNP) has recorded more than 6,000 deaths all linked to the current administration’s drug war since July 1 this year. Two thousand one hundred one (2,101) of it were killed during legal police operations while 3,993 were victims of summary killings of unknown men and vigilantes. Oplan “TokHang” and “Double Barrel” were two of the prominent campaigns being conducted by police authorities. TokHang stands for “toktok” means to knock, and hang from the Visayan word “hangyo” which means to request —to knock and request. It is done to convince drug personalities to render themselves to the police and “change their ways”. Double Barrel, on the other hand, was launched by the PNP last October 26 as a Phase Two campaign (Bueza, 2016).

Due to the continuously growing number of killings including those under legal operations, different human rights groups and organizations were alarmed, raised their protests and grave concern that the “war on drugs” solution of the Duterte administration has already reached its limitation. The In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDefend) opposed the increasing number of killed drug personalities, insisting that the government must deal on the root cause of drug addiction in the country—poverty, as a long-term solution to the problem and not merely killing drug-infested Filipinos (Yee, 2016). Another group, the Citizen’s Council on Human Rights (CCHR) since the start of the drug war campaign has been urging President Duterte to stop the killings of suspected drug users and pushers for it only leads to “worsening and lawlessness in the country” and these people were deprived of their rights for due process under law (Saunar, 2016).

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) as the country’s prime agency to investigate any violation to people’s dignity, rights and freedom also saw the ‘unprecedented’ scenario of summary killings under the Duterte administration while acknowledging the fact that it was not new (Cepeda, 2016).

The Philippine Senate investigated, led by Senator Leila De Lima who was then the chair of the Committee on Justice after being ousted in position and whom in return gained the hate of drug war supporters whilst a back-to-back investigation of the house that turned against her (Ager, 2016; CNN Philippines, 2016).

International human rights organizations, the United Nations (UN) and international communities condemned cases of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. For instance, the Human Rights Watch, an international advocate for human rights called for an investigation of President Durterte along with cases of summary killings which he was allegedly connected with, to be led by the UN. This was in line with the statement of Edgar Matobato who self-claimed himself as one of Duterte’s Davao Death Squad when the President was still a local city mayor. However, up until this month no investigation has yet been conducted because the Duterte administration refused such offensive move from the outside, unless the UN will follow certain measures and conditions (Santos, 2016a).

The contrasting views between the President and human rights groups in relation to the government’s war on illegal drugs do not end there. Despite of increasing numbers of killed drug personalities and even innocent lives taken, the mainstream Filipinos still support and even praise the government in its violent campaign to eradicate the country’s long-since drug problem. It can be implied from the different trust surveys conducted from time to time since Duterte took office in which he always gained high positive ratings. (Santos, 2016b). Even though the Senate concluded that there are no such state-sponsored killings as believed by human rights advocates, some or we could say many groups are deeply troubled. University students protested, human rights activists continue to fight for due process. The Church and other religious groups have spoken and condemned what they believe as countless ‘human rights violations’ of the present administration (Lozada, 2016).

On the other side, an equal intense war was happening on the internet. Filipino netizens in social media sharing different opinions and views vis-a-vis Duterte’s drug war, were clashing over the issue. Supporters of the President were very vocal about their stand while arguments they raised against those who were pro-human rights include political party-related ones (i.e., tied to the past administration).

Given the above scenario we could analyze an underlying dilemma(s) from the social issue cited. Should concern for human rights override the need to address the country’s drug problem the Duterte way or the government should take one path while leaving the other behind? Can we not safeguard human rights and at the same time address problems on illegal drugs in a long-term solution? Given that the mainstream Filipinos support the President and his war on illegal drugs, should we be not alarmed by the scenario? Is the Philippines’ illegal drug problem really getting worst, in the first place?

In line with these, this paper aims (1) to present the extensive drug war campaign of the government and the reasons behind the support it gains from mainstream Filipinos despite human rights concerns, relate it to Berger and Luckmann’s (1966) concept of institutionalization from the most basic to more complex processes; (2) shed light on the political, economic and legal conditions of the Philippine society that may have caused or contributed to the social issue aforementioned. We will be using Turner’s (2004) Institutional Analysis to explain this. Also, (3) I would argue in this paper that killing all drug criminals is not the long term solution to the problem and violation to human rights will never justify progress attained through such act. Lastly, propose a much better method of solving drug infestation in the country.



Berger and Luckmann (1966, p. 70) identified habitualization and typification as two of the many ways of how institutions came to arise, cemented in society and passed from one generation to another. Habitualization is the process in which an action is continually or generally repeated over time. When habitualization further continues as the adaptive mechanism of an individual it is now geared towards the formation of institution.  An institution is any social practice that is habitualized and when shared by many [the process of typification], institutionalization happens.

Prior to the 2016 national election Duterte raised to the political platform, became popular, topped various Presidential surveys and gained the support of different groups during the May 9 election. But if one is to think of the previous years, Duterte is no one in the eyes of many Filipinos. He is unknown until the image of Davao as a model city came into the picture. Davao was hailed as one of the safest cities in the world by, “a user-contributed survey site” (Abat, 2015). Taking note of the Numbeo site’s description, how credible are the individuals or respondents behind the survey conducted? Nonetheless, Duterte who was then the city mayor gained praises and became popular on the internet. Before the election, when Duterte had not announced yet his plan to run for 2016 Presidential election he was portrayed in the media as a tough local official, the fear of many drug addicts and criminals in his constituency. He was credited by many Filipinos for his city’s low crime rate record, although this claim had been debunked later by data and statistics from the Philippine National Police. The moment Duterte filed his certificate of candidacy, his name flooded the newspapers and online publications. He was the content of daily gossips and street talks. He also gained supporters from social media and blog internet sites with the admiration that if he won the election, the Philippines would become more like Davao. Many even believed that the drug problem in the country is getting worse and worst which we seek to clarify in the succeeding sections. This continued up until his current campaign against illegal drugs and supporters of the now President continue to defend the principles and idealism of Duterte despite human rights issues.

Through the lent of this point, we could analyze how Duterte in a sense became ‘an institution’ himself. Habitualization and typification can be implied months before the election. The word of mouth that spread across provinces nationwide contributed to his victory and Filipinos’ patronage to his campaign against illegal drugs.

Luckmann and Berger (1966) also cited these three defining elements of institutions namely: power, time and purpose/function. For almost six months of governance, we could see how Duterte as the highest official of the country were able to influence millions of Filipinos and take their consent (power). Although his publicity and influence came much shorter considering the length of time from the very moment majority of Filipinos known him up until today, Duterte and his political ideology greatly manifested in the minds and consciousness of many Filipinos. Lastly, Duterte definitely serves a bigger purpose and function in society more than one can imagine, be that positive or negative. One for sure, many Filipinos believed that Duterte will be the way to eradicating drug related-problem in the country. Though, the first defining element power can stand on its own for such act, behavior or even persona to be considered as a social institution. If Duterte was able to continue his political momentum for the next six or more years, unless there will be shifts in the scenario, he as an institution could be a lot stronger capable of lifelong influence just like the Marcoses.

We will expound further on this as we proceed in the discussion of the issue via Turner’s Institutional Analysis (2004) for we find the conditions to be presented below overlapping with Luckmann and Berger’s concept.


In order to grasp the historical origin behind Duterte’s drug war campaign and the support it gained from the masses amid human rights concerns, let us take a look back at the Philippine setting prior to Duterte’s presidency.

Year 2013 when typhoon Haiyan, locally known as Yolanda and the strongest typhoon ever recorded hit the Philippines. According to the final report of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC, 2013), Yolanda left the nation with 6,300 casualties, thousands injured and still missing, damage to properties and infrastructures reaching to an estimate of more than 89 billion pesos. This includes damage to cross-sectoral and social sectors. The Samar and Leyte provinces were the regions greatly affected and destroyed by the typhoon with 93% of casualties coming from these areas.

The international community extended their help and support to relief operations and rehabilitation programs for typhoon victims of Samar and Leyte in particular. A total of 1.202 and 1.269 billion peso cash and non-cash donations respectively, were received by the Philippine government as foreign aids (Foreign Aid Transparency Hub, 2013).

A year after the disastrous Yolanda, the Commission on Audit (COA) found out that thousands of non-cash donations that include food packs, canned goods, bottled water, body bags and rice were only spoiled, missing and never distributed (Cabacungan, 2014). Recently, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) of the present administration found some irregularities in the distribution of cash donations for Yolanda victims (ABS-CBN News, 2016). This corruption and fund misuse eventually became known to the public, reported on televisions and radios, and headlined in newspapers. No wonder why the former Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) secretary Manuel Roxas II and former DSWD secretary were involved in the Yolanda missing funds issue and became persons of criticism. Roxas also failed to win the 2016 presidential election with Duterte gaining majority of Filipino votes.  Several groups rallied against the former President Benigno Aquino III and his ‘concerned’ officials for the government’s incompetent response and the supposed aid for typhoon survivors mixed with politics.

The corruption of Yolanda funds tainted the Aquino administration up to this days. If one will connect the dots further, the Mamasapano incident and the former administration’s negligence along with the Kidapawan rice massacre could account for the mainstream Filipinos’ full support to the “change is coming” political slogan.

As the national artist for literature Francisco Sionil Jose (2016) would put it in his statement Why Duterte, his sudden rise in the Presidential race represented the “voice of angry Filipinos” tired of the generations-long history of “corruption at all levels in society” and the incompetence of the past administrations:

Minus the verbosity, Duterte represents radical change. If he is not sucked into the rotten patronage system as most of our politicians are, or assassinated, he may hasten the implosion which is already in progress, evident in the Duterte phenomenon itself and in the discrediting of so many of our institutions, from the Supreme Court to our churches to Congress.

Aside from ecological and political factors cited above which explain the popularity of the President’s drug war it is also important to look at the economic considerations behind this social issue. The number of killed and convicted drug personalities’ profile (i.e., drug lords, pushers, users and the like) would explain how Duterte’s war on drugs only turned out to be war against the poor. Legal factors including many loopholes of already established laws from the past administrations, poor law enforcement prior to Duterte’s presidency, can also be cited as an explanation to the inevitability of Duterte’s drug war for many but not all Filipinos.

According to the latest report of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA, 2016) as of the first quarter of 2015 the poverty incidence (the proportion of people below the poverty line to the total population) among Filipinos have dropped a little to 26.3 from 27.9 percent of the population during the same time in 2012. It has gradually declining through years and decades from the 44.2 % poverty incidence recorded in 1985.

In a survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations (SWS), Filipinos who self-rated themselves as poor also declined in an all-time low from 43% in 1987 and 2010 to 42 percent this year. That is, 9.4 million Filipinos consider themselves “poor” (Pilipino Star Ngayon, 2016).

Unemployment issues are also important to look at. In July 2016, the PSA (2016) recorded an estimated 5.4 percent unemployment rate—an equivalent of 2.6 million of the total population—among Filipinos that have dropped a considerable number from 6.5% during the same time in 2015. But numbers can be misleading. Let us take a look then on the profile of drug-related individuals.

The Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) have researched and compiled profile of drug patients under rehabilitation programs from 2009 to 2014. It shows that an averaged majority of drug addicts under rehabilitation in the country were unemployed (38.98%) of 40 percent total admissions, while out-of-school youth (8.53) still higher than students (4.4%).

From the data presented above, despite of the decreasing numbers of Filipinos falling below the poverty line millions of Filipinos are mired in poverty and criminality such as drug use in the country correlates to this and vice versa. The use and trading of illegal drugs are partly driven by poverty and unemployment. In addition, majority of killed drug personalities both under legal operations and vigilante killings as well as convicted drug users and pushers were poor, deprived of legal proceedings to fight for their cases. Thus, the drug war appeared to be very unfavorable on their part and they have no choice but to accept their fate.

Drug reduction and alleviation programs in the country are tainted with corruption and poor law enforcement, as the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR, 2009) of the US government analyzed anti-drug programs and operations in the Philippines (as cited in Dedace, 2009):

The drug problem in the Philippines remains significant, despite the continued efforts of Philippine law enforcement authorities to disrupt major drug trafficking organizations and dismantle clandestine drug laboratories and warehouses. The Philippines faces challenges in the areas of drug use and production, law enforcement, corruption, and drug trafficking.

Although the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) rebuttal this claim of INCSR, ‘reality’ shows that the latter’s claim may be true.  The PDEA itself on February 2016, reported the data they gathered from 2010 to 2015 tagging government officials (30%) equivalent to 186 individuals, employees (45%) or 278 government workers and law enforcers (25%) – 159 from both PNP and PDEA, linked to illegal drug trade (as cited in Santos, 2016c). Does it mean that we are experiencing illegal drugs ‘crisis’ now? We will expound further on this as we proceed.

From a Turner’s (2004) perspective, all that have been mentioned above are level forces and selective pressures from micro to macro realms of institutions. If we will analyze it further, all of these political, economic, legal factors and even the ecological ones (i.e., Yolanda) contributed to the ongoing campaign against illegal drugs of the present administration and seen by Filipinos as negligence of the past institutions. Hence, a need to support a more adequate one as an adaptive mechanism to problems imposed by society and dysfunctional institutions themselves. Therefore, support the President’s drug war.



It has been six months since Duterte raised his anti-drug war campaign with his belief that the country’s illegal drug trade and problem is really getting worst. During his first State of the Nation Address, President Duterte was deeply troubled to say that there were 3 million Filipinos addicted to narcotics or illegal drugs “two or 3 years ago.” He said it was according to the PDEA and probably around 3.7 million drug addicts were destroying the country by now.  However, data shows otherwise (How serious is the PH drug problem? by UP Students, 2016 via Rappler).

The Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) and other relevant agencies conducted a survey in 2008 and 2012 and found out a much lower figure than the President’s. According to the DDB, there are 1.7 million (1.9% of the population) drug users in the country in 2008 and it has declined to 1.3 million (1.3%) as of 2012. This decrease in number of drug users is very significant as the 1999 to 2002 figures show an increasing trend from 3.4 million to 5.8 respectively. Figure 1 shows the official estimate of the Dangerous Drugs Board from surveys conducted in various years. On the other hand, no data have been released yet by the DBP for 2015 survey.

Figure 1. The data shows the total number of drug users in the Philippines from 1999 to 2012 and the increasing to decreasing trend from 2004 to 2012. Sourced from DDB Annual Report as cited in (How serious is the PH drug problem?by UP Students, 2016 via Rappler).

According to the DDB, the decline in the number of individuals involved in drug use is due to the “intensified operation” of concerned drug agencies in the previous years. Data shows that the number of raids, arrests and rehab admissions in 2013 were an all-time high since a great drop and decrease in 2004 and 2006. Rehabilitation centers were also increased in number by 2014, adding more than 10,000 rehab facilities for drug users. Drug raids and operations include eradication of marijuana plantation sites which is also the highest since 2002 with 506 plantation sites cleared by PDEA in 2014, according to the DDB; comparing it to 188 and 451 marijuana plantations cleared up in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

 These show how extensive the government’s effort have been in the past few years even before Duterte’s drug war. The data provided highlight the extent of drug-related problems in the country and give us a hint of how effective previous drug solutions are and could be continued and used by the present administration for better outcome.



In the beginning of this paper, I have presented the different responses Duterte’s drug war received from both local and international groups as well as human rights organizations. Based from the data and points that I have discussed in the preceding sections, we can analyze that the support from the mainstream President Duterte gains in the contemporary times, is driven by political (including party-related conflicts), legal and economic factors to which I added the ecological ones in the face of super typhoon Yolanda.

Furthermore, data and records from anti-illegal drug authorities and agencies held claim that the extent of drug-use and trade in the country is gradually declining though years of intensified and extensified drug raids, rehabilitation programs and operations. Then, why not the present administration consider continuing what we have proven to be effective in the past few years and counting—only if Duterte did not anticipate killing drug personalities instead of helping them? Intensified rehabilitation program is already an effective fight against illegal drugs. Thereby reducing the drug demand first before the supply. Switzerland’s “Harm Reduction” policy can be taken as a good example (Aceron & Santos, 2016).

The method of “war on drugs” as a solution to the chronic trade and use of illegal drugs has also proven not to be deterrent across nations and states, citing for example America, Mexico, Columbia and Thailand’s drug war which the supposed war against drugs turned out to be an abuse to human rights; thousands of innocents were killed and suffered. Therefore, we must now learn from the lessons of the past.

Duterte’s drug war is bound to fail. I hold strong claim to it as it simply ignores reality and human rights for the sake of progress, if any through such act. The President once said not to use “human rights” as an excuse to criminals but the logic should not go like that.

We understand how radical change is necessary if one will think of the present condition where we find ourselves now. However, radical change is bound to damage and destruction so it must be pushed through with great painstaking.

In light with the current drug war campaign of the administration, instead of killing human rights and humanity why not highlight it instead. Policy makers should deal with a much more creative way of solving societal problems, let most Filipinos especially the youth engage themselves in arts and sports, unearth their potential towards developing self-worth. Most importantly, education must be accessible for all. Regulate more jobs and opportunities, address the root cause of poverty and consider highlighting humanity among Filipinos. These may sound too ideal but it is definitely doable.


Reference List

Aceron J., & Santos, M.G. (August 09, 2016) PH ‘war on drugs’ should draw lessons from other   countries. Rappler. Retrieved from, lessons-countries

Ager, M. (September 19, 2016). De Lima ousted as Senate justice committee chair. Retrieved from,

Bueza, M. (September 16, 2016). IN NUMBERS: The Philippines’ ‘war on drugs’ [Updated]. Rappler. Retrieved from,

Cabacungan, G. C. (September 12, 2014). Philippine Daily Inquirer. COA: ‘Yolanda’ aid wasted, unused. Retrieved from,

Cepeda, M. (August 24, 2016). Summary killings under Duterte admin ‘unprecedented’ – CHR.   Rappler. Retrieved from,

Dedace, S. (March 02, 2009). US report on RP drug problem ‘inaccurate’ – PDEA. GMA News. Retreived from,

DSWD discovers ‘Yolanda’ aid irregularities. (October 24, 2016). ABS-CBN News. Retrieved from,

House justice committee: Senator De Lima tagged in illegal drug trade in national jail, but no prosecution recommended. CNN Philippines. Retrieved from,

Jose, F. S. (April 27, 2016). Why Duterte. A commentary from his official Facebook account. Retrieved from,

Lozada, D. (December 11, 2016). Thousands protest across PH vs Duterte’s ‘worsening human    rights record’. Rappler. Retrieved from,

Santos, E.P. (February 04, 2016). Drug-related arrests involving gov’t officials, employees, increasing – PDEA. CNN Philippines. Retrieved from, /2016/02/03/Government-officials-illegal-drugs-trade.html

Santos, E. P. (September 16, 2016). Gov’t bags ‘very good’ SWS satisfaction rating: Drug war ‘excellent,’ ‘very good’ in human rights. CNN Philippines. Retrieved from,

Santos, E. P. (September 16, 2016). Human Rights Watch: Let U.N. lead investigation of Duterte. CNN Philippines. Retrieved from,

Saunar, I. (July 14, 2016). Human rights group urges President Duterte to stop killings. CNN Philippines. Retrieved from,

University of the Philippines students. (August 27, 2016). EXPLAINER: How serious is the PH drug problem? Here’s the data [Updated]. Rappler. Retrieved from

Yee, J. (August 13, 2016). ‘Don’t make war on drugs, war on human rights’. Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved from, war-on- human-rights

A final paper requirement submitted to my Social Anthropology 151 Class under Mr. Jerry Bangcawayan (Instructor of Anthropology, Department of Social Anthropology and Psychology, University of the Philippines Baguio).



  1. Your reference lists are known to be unreliable and corrupted by political colors. Then how can you convince us that all your article are true and accurate? You need to dig deeper man! I hope nobody paid you to post this misleading article.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello Jordan, thanks for paying attention to this post. Fist of all, it was an academic paper intended not as a propaganda but for purposes of “institutional study”. You may be right to say that some of the news authorities in my reference list have certain political biases. However, as much as these speak for facts and can be verified through empirical observation, that does not make this paper any less academic and my reference list still reliable. I hope you read the entire discussion and get my points correctly. Also, some of my sources came from government agencies themselves and were not tattered pieces from news articles. Berger and Luckmann (1966) and Jonathan Turner (2004) explained my discussion/argument in general. This is not a misleading article, in fact I believe it was an enlightening one only if we take times to ponder and think out of the box.


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