What Australia should learn from President Duterte’s war on drugs

Published 10:21 PM EST, Fri December 16, 2016
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Story highlights

Australian politician: 'We need strength to tackle our drug problem here in the West'

West needs to stop 'sneering' at Duterte and listen to him, Christensen says

Editor’s Note: George Christensen is an Australian politician, representing the Liberal National Party in the federal seat of Dawson. He is also the chair of the Australia-Philippines Parliamentary Network. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN) —  

It’s so typical of the West to sneer at the actions of what they see as “small brown folk on the other side of the world.”

The latest example of this racist and colonial mentality is the outrage and virtue-signaling criticism of the Philippines’ hardline approach to drug crime under President Rodrigo Duterte.

Yet the Philippines has a problem. The scourge of drugs – particularly crystal methamphetamine, known in the country as shabu – has taken its toll on families and relationships and on communities and barangays (small neighborhood-based local governments) right around the nation.

Australia Liberal National Party politician George Christensen (C) with Australia's ambassador to the Philippines Amanda Gorely (R) and Philippines House of Representatives Speaker Pantaleon "Bebot" Alvarez (L).
Facebook/George Christensen
Australia Liberal National Party politician George Christensen (C) with Australia's ambassador to the Philippines Amanda Gorely (R) and Philippines House of Representatives Speaker Pantaleon "Bebot" Alvarez (L).

It’s a problem that has led to theft, violence and death over many years. And it’s a problem that has helped keep so many Filipinos further entrenched in a poverty so deep it is hard for Westerners to imagine.

There are parallels with my own nation of Australia.

But the Philippines has the further problem of entrenched systemic corruption which has resulted in government and law enforcement officials all over the country facilitating and profiteering off the very drug trade which is destroying their countrymen and women.

In fact, government officials are so enmeshed in the drug trade that they have a name for it: narco-politics.

Enter “the Punisher,” as Pinoys call their recently-elected leader.

Prior to being elected to office earlier this year, Duterte made no secret of his desire to go after the drug lords. His machismo style (a Filipino trait) had him boasting during the election campaign that he would fill Manila Bay with the bodies of drug dealers if he was elected President.

More than 5,900 deaths in ‘war on drugs’ since July

With our leaders in the West emasculated by the culture of political correctness and the hand-wringing outrage brigade, such talk would have the culprit hung, drawn and quartered by the media.

Whatever the case in the West, for Duterte, it saw him elected in a landslide. And, once elected, he went on to enact the hardline war on drugs he promised the people of the Philippines he would wage.

Barangay chairmen were instructed to work with local police in providing names of suspected drug producers, traffickers and dealers.

Those suspects on these lists were asked to turn themselves in to police for questioning. Those who didn’t had the police come to them.

In many instances, they put up armed resistance, resulting in their death, which is no more or less what would happen in a country like Australia or the United States.

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The likes of President Barack Obama, the United Nations and Amnesty International have bemoaned the use of “extrajudicial killings” in the Philippines’ war on drugs. The Philippines has rejected this term. There’s only lawful killing (in self-defense) or unlawful killing.

A series of vigilante-style unlawful killings by a fed-up public on those suspected of drug crimes cannot be blamed on the Philippines government or on President Duterte.

Police officials have reported that deaths reportedly attributed to extrajudicial killings have actually been the normal sort of homicides seen when it comes to drug crime.

This is backed up by a recent Philippines Senate inquiry report which not only found there to be “no proof that there is a state-sponsored policy to commit killings to eradicate illegal drugs in the country” but that there had been “many thousands of killings with impunity taking place every year in the last two decades.”

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But is this hardline approach having any effect? Quite some, actually. Every day Manila newspapers are reporting a series of barangays around the nation declaring themselves as finally drug free.

What the Philippines example show is that if we in the West are serious about curbing the blight of drugs, we need to step up the fight.

I don’t for one second advocate for armed politicians shooting drug traffickers in the street.

But Duterte’s willingness to round the suspects up, to root out corruption, to seek appropriate penalties for drug crimes and to get the community involved in the effort to clean up the country is inspiring.

It is clear that we need strength to tackle our drug problem here in the West.

So instead of the colonial-style sneering at Duterte and the Philippines, perhaps we can learn from them.