The cost of the war on drugs in the Philippines

Rodrigo Duterte was elected President of the Philippines through the votes of 16 million Filipinos who bought into and supported his law and order campaign message. The promise Duterte built his campaign around focused upon tackling Philippines growing drug problem through viewing the lives and human rights of users and dealers as disposable.

President Duterte outlined his approach during his inaugural address when he vowed to ‘slaughter these idiots for destroying my country’, and has since enabled the assassination of more than 6,000 people by law enforcement agencies, paramilitary groups and vigilantes as well as claiming to have killed people himself. The legitimising of using murder as a tool to tackle a social problem has thrown the Philippines into a state of lawlessness, and although Duterte’s approval ratings remain a steady 83%, there is a notable increase of pressures on the state’ political system, infrastructure, and human rights record because of the war on drugs.

Impact on state’s political system and reputation

President Duterte’s bloody war on drugs has negatively impacted the politics of the Philippines both domestically and internationally. In a domestic sense, there is clear evidence that the Duterte administration deliberately inflated the estimated numbers of drug users in the country in order to utilise the fear vote within the electorate. Furthermore, Duterte’s ‘blind eye’ to the killing of drug users and dealers has led to mass corruption and the planting of evidence within the police force with no consequence. The lack of action taken to curb the volume of murders committed in the name of the President’s war on drugs has resulted in a wave of criticism from political opponents and the international community which has been met by Duterte in a less than politically correct manner.

In fact, it is Duterte’s response to the aforementioned criticism that is perhaps the greatest threat to the Philippines political system, as instead of answering the calls for accountability, the President has initiated a campaign against political enemies centred around harassment, intimidation and imprisonment. A key example of this was the framing and subsequent arrest of former secretary of justice Senator Leila de Lima on politically motivated drug charges as well as Duterte’s threats to kill human rights activists and assassinate journalists.

 

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In response to international criticism Duterte has adopted a different approach revolved around vulgar rhetoric and the denouncing of other world leaders and organisations. Most notably, despite the Philippines close relationship with the US as well as its reliance on American aid, former US President Barrack Obama was called a ‘son of a whore’ who should ‘go to hell’ after suggesting Duterte should deal with the drug problem ‘the right way’.  Equally, Duterte reportedly told the European Union to ‘Fuck Off’ when they requested an end to the extrajudicial killings of drug users and dealers. The undertaking of such an approach only further harms the Philippines reputation as well as highlight the unwillingness of the government to address the mass killings of civilians.

Impact on infrastructure

A number of drug users or dealers found by the state police were imprisoned rather than executed, however this has placed extra pressures on the state’s prison systems and has again highlighted the absence of human rights granted to those arrested. Data provided the Philippines government indicates that jails within the state currently hold 132,000 detainees who are awaiting trial or sentencing, despite the fact that facilities have a maximum capacity of just 20,399. The overpopulation within prisons has proliferated pre-existing issues regarding inadequate food and unsanitary conditions, as well as lead to an increase in violence between inmates as rival drug gangs are frequently situated in the same block.

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President Duterte’s response to the lack of adequate infrastructure has been typically limited to the extent that a 10,000-bed treatment and rehabilitation centre opened in December 2016 was funded solely by the Chinese government. However, it should be noted that the treatment centre shortly fell into international disrepute by using physical and emotional abuse as the only means of treatment. As a consequence, there is a lack of interest from the international community to fund rehabilitation and prison facilities until the Philippines begins operating within the universal declaration of human rights.

Impact on human rights record

The rate of roughly 33 killed for every 1 person injured makes President Duterte’s campaign the most-deadly drug war in history. As previously mentioned, more than 6,000 have been killed by enforcement agencies, 2,000 of which were in ‘self-defence; during anti-drug operations, according to the police. A claim which becomes utterly questionable when one considers the widespread corruption within the police as well as the fact that many of those dead have been found in horrific circumstances such as being bound and gagged, faces being wrapped in masking tape, and being piled up under bridges or even on the street. Evidence such as this suggests that not only is murder legitimised but also the torture and humiliation of those captured.

 In response to this there have been continuous and growing calls for President Duterte and his administration to be investigated by the international criminal court on the basis that his war on drugs constitutes a crime against humanity. The foundations of this belief comes from the absence of trials given to suspects, the torturing of victims as well as the mass killing of civilians giving the impression that Duterte is cleansing his state. Characteristically Duterte’s response denounces these claims by labelling foreign lawyers as ‘idiots’ who use ‘bullshit’ threats to influence the domestic politics of the Philippines, thus implying that the killing and torturing of civilians will continue.

To conclude, there is a lack of evidence to suggest that President Duterte’s bloody war on drugs will end. Alternatively, it is likely that Duterte will use his high approval ratings as a justification for the expansion of the war as well as a means to purge and silence his political opponents. Therefore, one can argue that without international intervention the murdering of civilians and their imprisonment in subhuman overcrowded prisons will continue at least till the end of Duterte’s presidential term.

 

 

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How much of a threat is biological terrorism?

In a recent speech given to the Munich security conference, philanthropist and business magnate Bill Gates argued that biological terrorism is the greatest threat posed to the world currently. Intriguingly, Mr. Gates noted that biological terrorism had the potential to inflict a greater number of causalities than nuclear war, with tens of millions being at threat from a single attack. The evidence highlighted by Mr. Gates’ originated from his ongoing funding and drive to improve global health through the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, which concluded there to be a lack attention given to the link between health security and international security within Western nations. In this sense, Mr. Gates’ is critically referring to the over emphasis placed upon the threat posed by lone wolf terrorism and the ideal of the enemy within, rather than consider the larger and much more problematic threat of biological weapons. On the other hand, can you truly blame western nations for focusing upon lone wolf terrorism over biological terrorism given that it has directly affected the majority of western nations in recent years. Therefore, one must question how great a threat biological terrorism is and whether there is any evidence of terrorist groups trying to procure and use biological weapons in the past.

In the years following the end of the cold war researchers argued that the use of biological weapons over nuclear weapons was far more likely given the differences in size and availability, though many of these studies also noted the volume of international treaties and conventions nullified any states attempts to use such weapons. However, in the post 9/11 security paradigm the global antagonist is no longer a rogue state but rather a multitude of terrorist organisations spread across the globe who are not bound to any international treaties or agreements, thus making the potential use of biological weapons very real. In fact, US and UK intelligence services have in the past noted that the Islamic state have attempted to develop biological weapons in Syria and Iraq. A claim supported by UK minister for security Ben Wallace who contends that terrorist organisations such as Islamic state lack any sense of morality which may be a barrier to the use of biological weapons.

The growth in concerns about the use of biological weapons is primarily resultant of the improvement in technology simplifying the changing of the molecular structure of deadly diseases, along with the emergence and spread of new forms of disease. An obvious example of such a disease would be the Ebola virus which killed 11,310 people and infected 28, 616 people between 2013-2016 in West Africa. Although, a 2015 study conducted by a UK top-secret military research centre in Wiltshire found that Ebola lacked the immediate devastating effect desired by terrorists, however noted that it would effectively spread fear amongst the public. Resulting from these findings, one must question whether the use of biological weapon would be the most effective means of attaining the high number of causalities desired by terrorist organisations and therefore would such organisations consider using biological weapons.

In order to answer the above question, one must delve into the history of biological weapon use in terrorist organisations. Interestingly, upon studying a selection of attempted terrorist attacks using biological weapons there are two consistent similarities found within most examples. These are that they occur within America and are undertaken by white supremacist groups. In these select cases the chemical agents used have ranged from ricin, typhoid and the bubonic plague. All of which have been attempted to be released in a multitude of differing ways such as poisoning the water supply. In this sense, the number of differing toxins and methods of releasing such toxins would suggest that Mr. Gates argument for increasing the attention and spending given to the defence of biological weapons is entirely warranted. Therefore, one must consider Mr. Gates’ warnings over the lack of interest and funding given to biological warfare defence gravely concerning.

Is there no such thing as bad publicity?

In an age where the language of politicians is seemingly becoming more colloquial, eye-catching and deliberately provocative, one must seriously question is there such a thing as bad publicity? After all, the Trump campaign for both the Republican Presidential nomination and the Presidential campaign was arguably based around the deliberate use of controversial rhetoric and proposed policies for the purposes of gaining media attention and exposure at the expense of his political rivals. Obviously this approach proved to be successful in both elections which therefore begs the question if political controversy is the best means of attracting media coverage. Furthermore, one must also consider whether Trump’s approach is undertaken with social media in mind rather than traditional mainstream outlets. With services such as Facebook and Twitter offering the user the ability to share stories meaning articles that both support and condemn the politician in question can go viral and reach far more people that traditional mainstream media outlets can.

Focusing prominently on the question posed, multiple studies have conducted research on the supposed relationship between media bias, candidate popularity and the political attitudes of the reader. Unsurprisingly, one candidate regularly focused on is now US President Donald Trump, who despite regularly attracting harmful press won the Republican nomination and the US Presidential election. In this sense, the continuous negative media campaign against Trump from mainstream American and global media outlets may ironically have boosted his quest for candidacy. After all, through sound bites and ill-thought supposed policies, Trump was able to capture the attention of both the electorate and the media, thus giving him his far more coverage than his more qualified and experienced political opponents. Furthermore, multiple studies consider that negative press generates far more interest than positive press. Primarily, these conclusions are drawn due to the fact that the number one priority of media outlets is to publish stores that will drive traffic and attract readers. Frequently, the stories which generate the most interest and are often the most talked about are based around the controversial viewpoint of a politician. The method of using controversial rhetoric and policies to gain media exposure was regularly utilised by the Trump campaign, which along with his already established pre-existing fame lead to sole focus being placed on him and a sense of selective exposure from media which was particularly evident in the race for Republican nomination.

Moreover, if one assumes that exposure is the primary aim of any politician running for office then negative press may be the most efficient means of attaining it. After all, as previously noted political controversy often leads to a higher number of articles being produced on the subject as well as encourages debates on the true meaning and legitimacy of the claims made. The second consequence noted is particularly significant when one considers the popularity of social media platforms. In this sense, controversial comments which attract interest can frequently go viral and reach millions without the influence or input of professional journalists. This conclusion can be considered particularly significant when one considers that a study conducted by Ipos Mori found that 34% of 18 to 24-year olds admitted that their political ideals and allegiance could be altered by something they read online. Additionally, a separate study conducted on the same topic supported Ipos Mori’s results by noting that 41% of young people aged between 15 and 25 had at some point engaged in a political debate online. The data provided by the two studies seemingly supports the claim that there is a positive relationship between media coverage and electoral success.

Finally, one can consider negative publicity and the media’s relationship with it to be a cycle of exposure which may or may not benefit the candidate. This cycle has three distinct sections which motivate one another. These are: controversial comments or policies by the political candidate, negative publicity and increased coverage in mainstream media and reaction on social media platforms. Furthermore, the cycle begins through the controversy generated by the politician, such as Trump’s pledge to build a wall along America’s southern border, consequently a multitude of analytical articles appear through traditional mainstream media outlets as well as online. The rise in online articles will invariably increase the likelihood of the story going viral and being read by millions of people. Moreover, as a consequence of a higher number of people being interested in the story and the fact that journalists have to publish stories which will generate traffic, the candidate’s coverage in mainstream media is rapidly enlarged and increases likelihood of success in the polls due to the candidate holding house-hold name recognition. In this sense, there is really no such thing as bad publicity as the primary aim of any modern day politician is media exposure and recognition.

By Jonathan Evans

Has the crisis in the Central African Republican been forgotten?

The modern history of the Central African Republic in the years following its independence from France in 1960 has been continuously dogged by violence, destruction of infrastructure and political instability. The violence within the CAR between the Christian anti-Balaka militia and the Muslim Seleka Rebels over control of the CAR’s rich natural resources has notable religious and political overturns and in 2014 the Huffington Post concluded that the conflict in the CAR has been continuously proliferated by a lack of attention and interest from mainstream western media, resulting in a slowing of effective aid efforts from regional and international organisations.  The conflict had at that time resulted in the internal displacement of roughly 1 million individuals, with hundreds of thousands reported to have sought migration to neighboring countries, culminating in around 2.2 million natives urgently requiring humanitarian aid.

Three years on and the Norwegian Refugee Council have placed the crisis in the CAR as the world’s foremost neglected displacement crisis, ahead of more modern crises such as Ukraine, South Sudan and Yemen, due to the insufficient economic and international support being given to meet the needs of the conflicts victims. The NRC’s conclusion is reflective of a wider disinterest in the CAR with online articles mentioning the state declining from 1,295 in September 2013 to 494 in February 2014.  General Secretary of the NRC Jan Egeland considers the CAR to be outside the geopolitical interests of western nations and it is therefore unsurprising that the United Nations received only 38% of the requested aid needed to combat the humanitarian crisis in the nation.

In this sense are we then left in a world where the level and quality of the international response to humanitarian crises is entirely dependent on national interest rather than the needs of victims. Arguably the unwillingness to intervene from western nations is primarily resultant of the lasting repercussions of two international crises which preceded the outbreak of violence in the CAR. These were the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, which both negatively impacted the mindset of western nations in differing ways. The disastrous attempts of the UN to prevent mass genocide in Rwanda as well as the widespread condemnation of America’s invasion in Iraq has made western states hesitant to intervene in global crises in case of escalating the conflict or being interpreted to be engaging in resolving the crisis for the sole purpose of furthering their own political and economic interests.

Consequently, in the current global paradigm the only motivation for involvement in global crises is seemingly proximity to both the start point of the violence and to any potential spill over through terrorism and lone-wolf attacks. Although this does not legitimize the absence of interest in resolving the conflict in the CAR, it does give an indication of the approach to humanitarian aid undertaken by western states, therefore one must question whether conflicts such as the CAR may ever receive the level of western aid and attention needed.

By Jonathan Evans