As darkness fell over the national capital region of the Philippines, the screams begin. It started a month before Rodrigo Duterte assumed the office of the presidency. In the last seven months alone, over 6,000 people had died, a third in police operations. As for the others, they were victims of summary executions.
On camera, Duterte has stated again and again his intent to kill drug lords and pushers. He has cursed Barack Obama, the European Union, and the United Nations. Despite the pressure from the international community, Duterte remains a popular president. A recent survey showed that an astounding 72% of Filipinos trust Duterte last December 2016.
Does it mean that the Filipino people approve of the extrajudicial killings?
For most Americans and Europeans, understanding the Asian culture is almost impossible. But to see the high approval ratings of a president who ‘appears’ to support extrajudicial killings, it must be shocking. And to think that the Philippines is a predominantly Catholic nation, then it becomes unfathomable.
I was born and raised in the Philippines. I am a writer who lives in a nice condominium with my choice of food daily. But make no mistake, my lifestyle does not represent the vast majority of Filipinos. Unless one were to live like most of the Filipinos, then understanding them is almost impossible.
Although the local human rights activists and political rivals have been vocal about the summary killings, calls to action against the president seem to keep falling on deaf ears. In other words, there are pockets of protests, but none that has gained critical mass.
Does silence mean Filipinos agree with the summary executions?
For people who live in the less safe streets of the national capital region, many of the 13 million residents think they are safer today than a year ago. The Philippine National Police (PNP) contends that while there are a lot of killings, these are now people who are mostly involved with drugs. In other words, the PNP is saying that the number of killings remains the same, but instead of innocent victims of crimes in the past, it is now the drug personalities who are being executed.
It is hard to imagine how a nation of mostly Catholics could support extrajudicial killings. But the lack of widespread protests against summary executions makes it seem like Duterte has the backing of the majority of the people. Even if over a third of the population trusts the president, trust does not mean they agree, though. And disagreeing does not mean they do not see the changes on the streets of the city.
Extrajudicial killing is one of the polarizing issues in the Philippines. The freedom to talk and express on social media was never suppressed. On one hand, the constitution guarantees due process of law, but on the other hand, the majority of Filipinos see the benefits of cleaner streets. Where once walking home, one is bound to pass by drug addicts, today these drug addicts stay away from the streets for fear of being shot dead.
It is hard to understand how Filipinos could appear to accept extrajudicial killings as a solution. About the only way, this could be explained, is the lack of hope and trust in the judicial system. Even if there are abuses committed by the authorities, it seems at this time that the vast majority are willing to accept them as collateral damage in Duterte’s war on drugs.