The Philippine president’s policy has killed thousands, yet he remains popularby Bill Hayton / March 17, 2017 / Leave a comment
On 5th November 2016, Rolando Espinosa, mayor of the central Philippines town of Albuera, was shot dead in his jail cell. A prisoner in an adjacent cell suffered the same fate. A police statement claimed both had died in a “shootout” with officers searching the jail.A few months earlier, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte had read out Espinosa’s name on television, along with those of 158 other public officials and judges, accusing them all of involvement in the drugs trade. The 71-year-old Duterte took office last June vowing to wage a “war on drugs”; since then, at least 7,000 people have been killed. Most victims have been poor slum dwellers, unknown beyond their immediate circle. Espinosa’s was one of the few individual names to make the headlines.
Two of Espinosa’s bodyguards had been caught in a drug bust but he had denied any involvement, claiming instead that his son was a drug lord. In mid-March, a Philippines Senate investigation concluded that Espinosa had been killed in “a systematic clean up” operation by police officers to hide their own involvement in the drugs trade. It found that the prison guards had been disarmed and made to kneel against the wall while police officers carried out a “search” of the two cells.
Another elected politician is also sitting in a cell, accused of involvement in the drugs trade. But her case is very different. Senator Leila de Lima is a former Chair of the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights and has spoken out relentlessly against Duterte’s war on drugs. In return, the president and his supporters have waged a campaign of vilification against her.
In February de Lima was charged with receiving bribes and turning a blind eye to the drug trade inside a Manila prison between 2010 and 2015, while she was Secretary of Justice. Her supporters regard the charges as farcical and her arrest as a threat to political freedom. In a letter de Lima wrote from within Camp Crame, the headquarters of the Philippine national police, she warned, “Each day I am here my life is at risk.”
De Lima’s arrest came soon after Duterte was forced to suspend his “war.” In mid-January it emerged that rogue officers based at Camp Crame had kidnapped a South Korean businessman and strangled him before…