Rodrigo Duterte: Learn from the Failures of Mexico’s Drug War

Rodrigo Duterte: Learn from the Failures of Mexico’s Drug War

Written by Chris Kent Lopez, an SSDP alum from the University of California Berkeley. Check out more of his writing on his personal blog, Reflexiones Sobre Nuestra America

Presidential candidates in countries torn by drug production and trafficking win executive power by campaigning their commitment towards tackling organized crime and extracting corruption from institutions of governance. On June 30, 2016, Rodrigo Duterte, a former lawyer and mayor, was inaugurated as the sixteenth president of the Philippines, where a war on drugs has just been explicitly declared.

The world should be concerned.

The rhetoric Duterte utilized to detail his iron fist approach towards drug consumers, dealers, and producers are reminiscent of the militarized objectives former Mexican president Felipe Calderon announced before his country, ten days after his inauguration in 2006. Duterte is truly at risk of dragging the Philippines into the devastating fate of Mexico, where its citizens have had to bear the state-sponsored violence that has only perpetuated uncontrollable drug-related chaos.

Since Duterte’s inauguration, 564 killings have taken place in the Philippines. The international media is being flooded with pictures depicting the extrajudicial killings of Filipino citizens who are convicted of being complicit in the trafficking and consumption of unidentifiable drugs. Scrolling down the’s “The Kill List,” countless of those murdered are labeled as “unidentified drug suspect” followed by a number signifying its accumulation. As of August 8th, 2016 midday, there were 118.

Duterte’s presidential rhetoric has decreed the indiscriminate killings that require an urgent and persistent international condemnation. The new president is now presiding over these islands with the ability to have anyone suspected of affiliation with drugs, dead.

THE SIMPLE AND THE PUNISHER. President Rodrigo R. Duterte poses with toy maker Dennis Mendoza while showing two custom-made action figures of himself. One shows the simple Duterte who is often seen wearing a checkered polo and denim jeans while the other shows the resemblance of the cartoon character 'The Punisher' as he has been known to have an iron fist approach in addressing criminalities. ROBINSON NIÑAL/PPD

President Rodrigo R. Duterte poses with toy maker Dennis Mendoza while showing two custom-made action figures of himself. One shows the simple Duterte who is often seen wearing a checkered polo and denim jeans while the other shows the resemblance of the cartoon character ‘The Punisher’, as he has been known to have an iron fist approach in addressing criminalities. ROBINSON NIÑAL/PPD

Certainly, the nature of the drug production and smuggling problem is different in Mexico and the Philippines respectively. Yet, the result of a state-led war on drugs would not differ by much. Mexico has been suffering from a war the government declared on domestic cartel networks. In ten years, the Mexican government has failed to prevent more than 100,000 homicides, 25,000 disappearances, and an international reputation for renouncing the human rights of its citizens. In addition, Mexico experiences the trafficking and production of a wider variety of drugs that are destined for North American and European markets. Unfortunately, after billions of dollars invested in this ongoing war, the Mexican state continues to struggle in eradicating the very organized crime plaguing its institutional credibility and effectiveness. Narcotraficantes have been captured and murdered, but has been experiencing a rise in the cultivation of opium.

The Philippine Islands, on the other hand, also sees marijuana and cocaine smuggled throughout the country. However, it is shabu, degraded crystal meth that is the most popular illicit drug taken in the Philippines, present in over ninety percent of the capital’s neighborhoods alone. The law-and-order rhetoric expressed in his inauguration speech deliberately aroused the public fear that would not challenge his methods of eliminating illegal drugs. After officially receiving executive power, Duterte began accusing top security enforcement officials of participating in the country’s drug smuggling operations. Arrest warrants and calls for brutal enforcement of the anti-narcotic laws issued by the president has horrified sections of the population that engage in drug use and desire to protect family members from being killed.

The fear of this state-sponsored violence has prompted 114,833 people to turn themselves in since Duterte declared war on the organized crime that operates in his country. This has not happened and could not happen in Mexico where no president in the country’s history has behaved explicitly punitive and bloodthirsty. How intimidating must the Mexican government be to force Los Zetas to surrender themselves? If so many drug users and traffickers are being arrested, will the Philippines see an overall decrease in the amounts of drugs being consumed and smuggled? As in Mexico’s case, the captures of narcolords and the seizures of tons has only strengthened the entrepreneurial desire to invest in other drugs and methods profiting off this illegal trade.

A striking difference between the attitudes of Duterte and Calderon is the uncensored impunity the former has granted to the law enforcements agencies he now oversees. Mexican presidents like Calderon and Enrique Pena Nieto have denounced the operations of domestic cartels, but never issued the ultimatum informing suspected drug users and pushers that they turn themselves in or become hunted down with no mercy. Operativo Conjunto Michoacan was the operation in which hundreds of security forces were deployed by the former Mexican president to the state where La Familia Michoacana was reigning with terror. Dozens of elected official in this state were arrested over the course of time, yet Michoacan remains one of the most dangerous states in all of the country. As Duterte continues to identify those of institutional relation with the drug trade, his administration needs to anticipate how much violence will result from arrest warrants and the staged killings leaving corpses with written messages written by the state.

Whereas certain Mexican cartels have retaliated by killing police officers and elected officials in response to institutional uncooperativeness, Filipino narcos have not waged a war against Duterte’s regime. Though it has not been two months since inauguration, this is a potential force of opposition his security forces can encounter. Narcotraficantes bribe for their impunity and become enraged when it becomes threatened and betrayed.

In Mexico, the war on drug policies has been succeeded and continued by over four presidencies. It may be too soon to begin comparing both countries since the former Filipino president, Benigno Aquino III, did not take this stance against drugs. However, lessons can be drawn from Mexico’s struggle to establish citizen security and persistent victories against their clashes with different organized crime networks. The great amount of Mexicans that were in favor of militarizing the state against cocaine and heroin traffickers now regret validating an anti-narcotic policy inconsiderate of the collateral damage it has wreaked upon civil society.

As the Filipino people begin to embrace a new regime, the neighborhoods afflicted with high rates of drug dealing and consumption are being terrorized in the name of the national security that does not prioritize the welfare of these communities. Enrique Pena Nieto’s war on drug policies were not issued to protect the poorest citizens living near drug cultivation sites, but rather rearrange the destination of this trade’s profit. Duterte’s actions must be questioned on the grounds of corruption or possibly suspecting the favoring of a particular drug network. In her book Mexico en llamas: el Legado de Calderon (Mexico in Flames: the Legacy of Calderon), Anabel Hernandez proves how this president’s political party operated in favor of the Sinaloa Cartel as its territorial enemies were being arrested at a far greater rate than those of this Northern Triangle Federation. Duterte should seriously consider reading this book and take notes on its repercussions.

But most importantly, Rodrigo Duterte needs to analyze the impact that Mexico’s ten-year war on

drugs has had on its citizens and recognize that an iron fist approach agitates the accused and massacres the innocent. If he is dedicating time to televise to the nation of how the Sinaloa Cartel operates within his borders, this Mexican cartel’s particular history with its national government should be understood.

Corruption advances when corruption is vilified in the midst of a drug war.