Residents and protesters hold lighted candles at the wake of Kian Loyd delos Santos, a 17-year-old high school student, who was among the people shot dead last week in an escalation of President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs in Caloocan city, Metro Manila, Philippines August 21, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

In March 2017, when President Rodrigo Duterte visited the Filipino community in Bangkok, his battle cry was to get rid of the addicts who”rape, kill, rob” your daughters and sons. The Filipinos cheered and clapped their hands, hoping for a messiah.

Sometime in June, I woke up to the ringing of my phone. A Filipino friend in Thailand asked me for the assistance of friends in the media and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). Her nephew was apprehended for an old case and died in the custody of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) less than 24 hours after he was turned over by the Caloocan City police in the Philippines.

My friend was a staunch supporter of Duterte. She cheered when he promised to kill the addicts. Probably, she was one of those DDS (Duterte Diehard Supporters) who rejoiced when the CHR’s budget was reduced to US$19. Crying on the phone, she asked me:

Why this happened? My nephew was sick.”

That is the reason why human rights are important,” I replied.

Meanwhile, charges against Kerwin Espinosa and Peter Lim, confessed drug lords, were dropped. Lim is a close friend of Duterte. The $100-million shabu (methamphetamine) shipment that slipped past the Bureau of Customs was never recovered.

These personalities involved in drugs are given due process. The Philippine government protects their human rights even as Duterte continuously mocks human rights and UN human rights experts, including Agnes Callamard, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

In a country plagued by heinous and petty crimes that disrupt the lives of the people, many believe that criminals do not deserve a chance and have no human rights. Of the thousands dead, many are believed to be victims of extra-judicial killings, but Duterte supporters are quick to condemn human rights advocates, deriding them as “defenders of the addicts.”

Of the thousands dead, many are believed to be victims of extra-judicial killings, but Duterte supporters are quick to condemn human rights advocates, deriding them as “defenders of the addicts”

Those who died are the poorest of the poor. Maybe some were guilty of crimes. But who knows? They were already deprived of their right to due process and equal protection under the law as guaranteed by Section 1, Article III of the Bill of Rights in the Philippine Constitution. Even suspected criminals must be protected from harm when arrested, and must have the right to counsel and a fair trial.

But the thousands killed never saw a single day in court. In Duterte’s drug war, alleged drug lords like Espinosa and Lim are given due process because the justice system is selective.

During his State of the Nation address on July 23, 2018, Duterte focused his speech on the “war on drugs.” He mocked human rights advocates, the Catholic Church and the international community for their silence on drug problems, and the deaths of police officers and soldiers in the line of duty.

“Your concern is human rights. Mine is human lives,” Duterte said.

As usual, Duterte lied. He keeps on lying about his concern for human lives. Human life is essential in human rights but his senseless “war on drugs” has left more than 20,000 people dead and the number is rising.

The Church and the human rights advocate never get tired of campaigning against illegal drugs as well as the senseless killings, even though Duterte orders the police to shoot them for “obstructing justice.”

CHR Commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit said the president’s words against human rights defenders matter.

They can inspire or they can incite. Words can evoke empathy or provoke antipathy. Words from our president matter because people, especially those in government, take cues from our leader. Words become policy. We deserve decent and respectful language from those in the highest office.”

Unfortunately, it is only when one of the “addicts,” one of the casualties of Duterte’s “war on drugs,” is one of our friends or relatives that we think to demand respect for human rights.

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Eunice Barbara C Novio

Eunice Barbara C Novio is a Thailand-based freelance journalist. She is also a lecturer at Vongchavalitkul University in Nakhon Ratchasima. Her articles have appeared on Asian Correspondent, America Media, and The Nation. She is also a contributor to the Bangkok Post and Thai Enquirer and a stringer to's US Bureau. She won a Plaridel Award from the Philippine American Press Club.