Philippines’ ongoing war on drugs shatters hopes of peace for a generation

Rodrigo Duterte

When he was elected president of the Philippines in July 2016, President Rodridgo Duterte promised to negotiate peace agreements with the major insurgent groups that have destabilised much of the country for decades.

His government announced it would commence peace talks with the representatives of the National Democratic Front, the umbrella organisation that represents both the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army. Duterte also committed himself to a peace agreement with the Philippines’ largest insurgent group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

At the time, these seemed like breakthroughs in the making. But the early optimism has dissolved, and the peace talks have stalled. While the government does seem genuinely willing to negotiate, the president seems to be been prioritising another one of his election campaign promises: eradicating crime and drugs.

This notorious “war on drugs” has been extraordinarily bloody, and criticised by human rights organisations and foreign governments alike. Nonetheless, it is supported by a majority of the population.

The popular narrative of the effects of drugs – in particular, shabu, or methamphetamine – seems to be exaggerated. Shabu use, urban legend says, results in not just theft and robbery, but paedophilia and arson; horror stories abound of addicts slaughtering entire families. The president himself has been quoted likening shabu addicts to “the living walking dead … of no use to society anymore”.

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