The Business Times

Graft, impunity in the Philippines raising the risks of doing business

Published Thu, Feb 16, 2017 · 09:50 PM
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SINCE Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte won the elections last May in a landslide, international observers have watched with growing alarm his dogged pursuit of a brutal war on drugs.

A January report by Amnesty International, aptly titled "If You Are Poor You Are Killed'', cites statistics from the Philippine National Police of over 7,000 drug-related killings between July 2016 and January this year, carried out by police officers and "unknown armed persons". This translates to an average of 34 deaths a day. The organisation charges that the vast majority of the killings appear to be "extrajudicial executions" - that is, "unlawful and deliberate killings carried out by government order or with its complicity or acquiescence". Two of the study's observations were particularly egregious. One, the vast majority of those killed were from the poorest neighbourhoods, whereas foreign nationals caught in drug raids were allowed due process. Two, financial incentives were offered to vigilantes, allegedly by the police, to carry out killings.

Despite international alarm and condemnation by human rights activists, Mr Duterte's approval and trust ratings have remained high, based on a poll conducted in December. But the latest outrage - the kidnap and murder of a South Korean businessman by members of the police drug squad under the guise of a drug bust - could well prove a turning point. Following the incident, Mr Duterte has ordered the disbanding of the police's anti-drug units; the crackdown on drugs would now be handled by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency. Bishops of the Catholic Church have also weighed in with a strongly worded pastoral letter excoriating the "reign of terror" and lamenting the people's seeming indifference or worse, approval.

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