Philippine President Duterte’s First Year in Office Marked by Bloody War on Drugs

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gives a speech during Eid al-Fitr celebrations marking the end of Ramadan at the Malacanang Palace in Manila on June 27.
Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images

The president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, celebrates his first year in office Friday. Since becoming president, he has picked a fight with former President Obama, cursed out the Pope, joked about raping women and declared his “separation” from the United States to pursue a more independent foreign policy with new friends China and Russia.

But none of that really matters at home.

What does matter is that Duterte ran for president promising a brutal, bloody war on drugs. And he’s delivered.

More than 7,000 alleged drug suspects have died in extrajudicial killings, in encounters with police or gunned down in so-called vigilante killings. The killings have drawn widespread international condemnation, with Human Rights Watch describing Duterte’s first year in power as a “human rights calamity.”

But here’s the thing: Duterte is actually more popular now than when he was elected.

A year ago, he won the presidency with just under 40 percent of the vote. Today, according to the latest opinion polls, his approval rating is between 75 percent and 80 percent.

“He’s a man of his word. He’s a man who does what he says he’s going to do,” says Clarisse Santiago, an 18-year-old student from Manila. “It’s because of him that drug-related crime is going down.”

“He’s like a father for every Filipino,” says Daniel Bernardo, 31, a political science Ph.D. student. “I believe in his integrity. Of course, you can’t say he’s perfect. He has flaws. But he’s a game-changer, not a traditional politician.”

Both are sitting in one of the many bars across the street from Manila’s De La Salle University, where the clientele is mostly middle- to upper-middle class students. The extrajudicial killings in the war on drugs aren’t much of an issue, at least among the Duterte supporters here.

“I don’t even consider them extrajudicial killings,” Bernardo says. “It’s a moral killing, in a way. It’s like a pest in your house. If you see a cockroach or a mosquito, you’d kill it. For me, if you’re a drug user, a drug seller, you’re a sickness in society. You need to disappear.”

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SOURCE: NPR, Michael Sullivan