Davao City: Mayor Duterte declares “war on drugs”

Sebastian “Baste” Duterte, mayor of Davao City, announced a so-called “war on drugs” for his city on March 22, 2024, and warned that drug suspects would be killed if they did not stop dealing drugs or leave the city. Two days after the announcement, five deaths related to drug suspects were reported within 24 hours. The Davao City Police Office (DCPO) recorded an increase to seven drug-related killings and 78 arrests in 65 police operations since the announcement until April 8, 2024.

The announcement caused great concern among civil society organizations. Carlos Conde, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), warned that Mayor Duterte’s “war on drugs” will exacerbate the already critical human rights situation in Davao City. Conde called on the national government to intervene in time in order to prevent Duterte’s actions from causing further human rights violations. The Dahas Project from the Third World Studies Centre of the University of the Philippines documented an alarming number of drug-related killings by state security forces. Even before Duterte’s call for a “war on drugs,” ten people died in Davao City alone between March 8 and 15, 2024.

Duterte emphasized that he did not order suspects to be killed, but rather spoke of doing so personally. This statement is reminiscent of the aggressive approach in the fight against illegal drugs during the term of his father, Rodrigo Duterte, ex-president and former mayor and vice mayor of Davao City. The independent news organization Verafiles pointed out that Duterte’s decision could have been influenced by his desire to follow in his father’s footsteps, as well as family ties, political pressure and the belief that a rigid approach to crime helps to maintain power.

In this context, the newly appointed head of the Philippine National Police (PNP), General Rommel Francisco Marbil, emphasized that what is needed is not a new “war on drugs,” but rather greater accountability and transparency within the police force. The Philippine Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) announced investigations into the rising drug-related killings to hold Davao City police officers accountable.


Photo © Raffy Lerma

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