Philippines Foreign Secretary Defends Controversial Drug War

Philippines Secretary of Foreign Affairs Alan Cayetano defended his country’s controversial war on drugs on Thursday, saying that “[The Philippines doesn’t] have any other choice.”

Cayetano was responding to international condemnation of the 15-month-old anti-narcotics campaign initiated by President Rodrigo Duterte, after coming to power 15 months ago, that has reportedly resulted in thousands of deaths.

“We refuse to watch and do nothing as the Philippines becomes a narco-state and as we lose a whole generation of our children to narcotics,” Cayetano said at Asia Society on Thursday. “The rule of law was being destroyed by narcotics, not by the war on drugs.”

While campaigning for president, Duterte promised a crackdown that would kill 100,000 criminals and vowed that so many bodies would be dumped in Manila Bay that the “fish will grow fat.” Since his election in June 2016, he has encouraged extrajudicial vigilante killings of suspected drug addicts and even admitted to personally killing suspected criminals when he was mayor of Davao.

On Thursday, Cayetano said that synthetic drugs like methamphetamines causing paranoia and violence are plaguing the Philippines. He pointed to slides showing several news articles reporting drug-motivated rapes and murders that “shocked” Filipinos in recent years, including one that in fact occurred in the United States.

Furthermore, Cayetano said that the drug trade was fueling corruption and terrorism in the country, with drug lords controlling local governments, police, and courts in many regions. “Narco-politicians and drug lords were the ones in the know and the ones who had the power,” he said. “Poverty, terrorism, and drugs are intimately related.”

Government figures show that an estimated 3,451 “drug personalities” were killed between the time Duterte took office on June 30, 2016, and the end of this July, while some activists estimate the true number to be upwards of 13,000. Several media outlets have published bloody images of Filipinos hunted down in the streets by vigilante “death squads.” Children and teenagers have been among those killed in the violence, which Duterte has deemed “collateral damage.”

Cayetano claimed that activists and opponents of Duterte are using sentimental or emotional events to make a “false generalization” about the drug war, noting that for every three young drug addicts that are killed, another 300 are “arrested and returned to their parents.”

“The critics do not show you the whole picture and [all the] statistics,” he added.

In spite of the violence, a recent Pew poll suggests that the anti-drug campaign is broadly popular in the country. Seventy-eight percent of Filipinos approve of Duterte’s handling of the issue, while 62 percent said they believe the anti-drug campaign is making progress.

“It's not because [the supporters] believe in violating human rights,” Cayetano said. “It's not because we believe in vigilantism. It is because [Duterte is] starting to put back the rule of law and saying whatever is right is right and whatever is wrong is wrong.”

“Of course there's a debate as to whether he goes overboard,” he added. “But let me just say that the harsh rhetoric is the language understood by the drug lords.”

In the above video, Cayetano responds to a question as to whether the drug war is working. Watch the complete program in the video below.