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Rodrigo Duterte

Meth and death in Duterte’s year of living dangerously

As the Philippine president marks a year in office on Friday, the drug trade continues and hopes of a quick end to the war have long faded

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 June, 2017, 6:32pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 June, 2017, 10:44pm

Meth addict Reyjin is still able to score on the frontlines of the Philippines’ drug war, living proof that a year of fear has failed to kill the illegal narcotics trade as promised.

President Rodrigo Duterte swept to an election victory last year largely on a pledge to wipe out his nation’s illegal drugs trade within three to six months, saying he would do so by killing thousands of people.

Duterte fulfilled his vow on the death toll, drawing condemnation from rights groups who warned he may be orchestrating a crime against humanity as police and unknown assassins filled slums with bullet-ridden corpses.

But, as the president marks a year in office on Friday, the drug trade continues and hopes of a quick end to the war have long faded.

“I can buy anytime I want, except when the police patrols are out at night,” Reyjin, a father-of-three, said as he recounted how he had maintained his addiction to the crystal methamphetamine known locally as “shabu”.

Reyjin, a high school dropout and part-time construction worker, said the meth supply tightened in the first three months of the crackdown and the price doubled to 200 pesos (about $4) a pop.

But meth flooded back in around October, although the quality went down, according to Reyjin, who asked his real name not be used for security reasons.

“Now it’s diluted, and getting a hit takes more effort,” he said.

Still, the price of the lower-quality shabu has remained steady since October at 150 pesos, according to Reyjin.

He said hooded gunmen had shot dead a drug dealer near his house over the past year, while the bodies of two other alleged users were found in his community.

But Reyjin said this had not stopped others from getting into drugs, singling out several 15-year-olds who picked up bottles for recycling for a living.

Reyjin said many of his friends had been on lists of drug suspects drawn up by local officials and submitted to the police. He said he was not yet on the lists, though admitted his jobless wife was petrified.

“She fears I will get myself killed, so she forbids me from going out at night,” he said.

Critics of Duterte’s crackdown have claimed that, besides thousands of people being murdered and the rule of law breaking down, such a drug war is unwinnable.

“We could not win the war on drugs through killing petty criminals and addicts,” former Colombian president Cesar Gaviria wrote in an opinion piece for the New York Times.

“I hope Mr Duterte does not fall into the same trap.”

Duterte, who has typically countered critics of his drug war with abusive tirades, responded to Gaviria’s advice by describing him as “that idiot”.

Police have killed 3,116 drug suspects in the crackdown, according to official figures.

Another 2,098 people have been killed by unknown assailants in drug-related crimes, while there have been 8,200 more murders with no known motive, according to the police.

While Duterte has insisted that his police officers are killing drug suspects only in self defence, he has also conceded the force is “corrupt to the core”.

Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia torch US$1 billion of seized drugs in massive bonfire ceremonies

He made the admission in January after it was revealed police in an anti-drug unit kidnapped a South Korean businessman to extract a ransom from his wife, then murdered him.

Still, Duterte and his aides insist they are winning the drug war, albeit not as quickly as promised.

The drug trade nationwide has shrunk by roughly one quarter over the past year, causing crime rates to drop by more than 28 per cent, according to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.

More than 82,000 suspected dealers have been arrested while 1.3 million users have reported themselves to authorities, the agency said.

“Due to the intensified anti-drug campaign, unprecedented accomplishments (on) all fronts have been recorded,” the agency’s director-general, Isidro Lapena, said this month.

Duterte’s crackdown has also proved popular, with surveys consistently showing an overwhelming majority of Filipinos support the president and his tactics.

Buoyed by popular support, Duterte continued throughout his first year to make inflammatory comments that rights groups said could be seen as incitement to murder, such as saying he would be “happy to slaughter” three million addicts.

He also extended his election campaign timeframe, vowing to continue the crackdown until the last day of his six-year term.

Like many other relatives of people killed, Maria Lusabia - whose 44-year-old son was murdered by unknown assailants in a Manila slum after reporting himself as a user to authorities -- knows she will find no justice.

“No one wants to tell us who killed him,” Lusabi said this week.