Philippines' Top Drug Enforcer: Violent Fear Tactics are Failing

The head of drug enforcement for the Philippine National Police told Reuters on Friday that the country’s draconian approach to curbing illicit drugs has been ineffective and that drug supply remains “rampant”.   

Rodrigo Duterte US governmentPresident Rodrigo Duterte in 2017 Credit: Presidential Communications Operations Office“Shock and awe definitely did not work,” said Colonel Romeo Caramat, suggesting that authorities should shift away from immediately arresting or killing low level drug dealers and users, and should instead consider surveillance methods that might lead to the capture of the large scale drug dealers and producers who remain at large.  

Since the Philippines elected its strongman president Rodrigo Duterte in June of 2016, it has been engaged in a sustained war on drugs that has seen police and paramilitary forces kill and imprison addicts and suspected traffickers.  

OCCRP named Duterte its “Person of the Year” in 2017, referencing Duterte’s declaration that if Hitler could kill three million Jews, he would “happily slaughter” his country’s three million drug addicts.  

“While he is not your typical corrupt leader, he has empowered corruption in an innovative way. His death squads have allegedly focused on criminals but, in fact, are less discriminating. He has empowered a bully-run system of survival of the fiercest. In the end, the Philippines are more corrupt, more cruel, and less democratic,” said Drew Sullivan, chief editor for the OCCRP. 

Government officials say that 5,532 people have been killed in drug enforcement police operations in the Philippines since Duterte’s rise to power, but various human rights groups have stated that the real total is likely to be substantially higher.  

The United Nations and the International Criminal Court are conducting separate investigations to try to reveal the true number of killings.  

Caramat, when serving as the police chief of Bulacan, a province north of Manila in 2017, oversaw what Reuters described as the “bloodiest day” of the Philippines' war on drugs where 32 people were killed within 24 hours.  

His criticism of what he describes as the governments failed “shock and awe” approach comes after Duterte praised the massacre he directed years ago. “Let’s kill another 32 everyday,” the president stated. “Maybe we can reduce what ails this country.” 

While Caramat concedes that crime may have gone down since the drug war, he pointed to a November drug bust of US$50 million worth of crystal meth. The 370 kilograms that were found “turned out to be just the leftovers,” he said, stating that tons of meth were likely stored elsewhere. 

The government has not yet responded directly to Caramat’s criticism, but has continued to justify its repressive approach to combating drug use and trafficking.