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Monthly Archives: October 2019

“Go There and You Are Free to Kill Everybody”


30 years ago, the Filipino city of Davao was one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Between communist groups, Muslim separatists, and local corruption, Davao had a 3-digit crime rate per 10,000 people. Asia Week branded Davao as the “Murder City” in 1985. Today Davao has just landed in 5th spot on the safest city rankings behind Osaka, Seoul, Singapore, and Bursa. According to the Davao City official website:

“From a 3-digit crime rate per 10,000 people in 1985, Davao has reached an almost Utopian environment with a monthly crime volume of 0.8 cases per 10,000 persons from 1999 up to 2005. Digging through the records, it would reveal that about 90% of these cases reported are petty crimes that do not in any way threaten the over-all peace and order condition of the city.”

Many people attribute this change to the then mayor, and now president, Rodrigo Duterte.

Duterte introduced many changes welcomed by local residents such as a a curfew for unescorted minors, a ban on the sale/consumption of alcohol at certain times, a public smoking ban and fines for noise disturbance. But the drop in crime under Duterte’s watch was accompanied by an unsettling pattern: a growing number of extrajudicial killings. Victims were often killed by two or three men on motorbikes carrying .45-calibre handguns or knives, according to Human Rights Watch. Many of the killings were committed by the so-called “Davao death squad”.

Since taking office on June 30, 2016, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has carried out a “war on drugs” that has led to the deaths of over 12,000 Filipinos to date. Included in the deaths have been 12 mayors and eight vice mayors. Duterte is continuing this campaign while ignoring the demands of the international community. Amnesty International recently announced that the killings may fall under the crimes against humanity criteria. While western nations often see Duterte as a villain, approximately 79% of adult Filipinos said they were satisfied with the president in the first quarter of 2019. Despite international disapproval, the extrajudicial killings continue. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte recently ordered controversial police commander Espenido, who has previously been involved in counter-drug operations that left two town mayors dead, to “start killing” in his newly assigned area of Bacolod. Bacolod is a city of 560,000 people in the central region of the Philippines on the island of Negros. “Bacolod is badly hit by drugs now. I placed Espenido there. I said, ‘Go there and you are free to kill everybody. Son of a b****, start killing there. The two of us will then go to jail’,” Duterte said. Bacolod Mayor Evelio Leonardia expressed support for Duterte’s war on drugs as police in Bacolod have reportedly seized $335,000 worth of methamphetamine from only June to August this year, according to the Philippine News Agency.

There is no end in sight of the Duterte’s war on drugs campaign. Since Duterte’s election in 2016 many international groups and nations have been calling for change in the Philippines, yet nothing has changed. With impressively high satisfaction among Filipinos it is unlikely that anything will change in Duterte’s war on drugs.

Works Cited

Aldama, Zigor. “How Rodrigo Duterte’s War on Drugs Has Become a War on the Poor.” Post Magazine, South China Morning Post, 20 Jan. 2018,

Austin, Rod. “’War on Drugs’ Makes Philippines Fourth Most Dangerous Country – Report.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 9 July 2019,

Hegina, Joseph. “Davao City Improves to 5th in Ranking of World’s Safest Cities.” Global News Davao City Improves to 5th in Ranking of Worlds Safest Cities Comments, Inquier, 24 June 2015,

Lasco, Gideon, and Bianca Ysabelle Franco. “Why Do Filipinos Support Hard-Liner President Duterte?” The Globe Post, 27 May 2019.

Peel, Michael. “Drugs and Death in Davao: the Making of Rodrigo Duterte.” Financial Times, Financial Times, 2 Feb. 2017,

“Philippines: Rodrigo Duterte’s Drug War Photos.” Time, Time, 2019.

Regencia, Ted. “’Free to Kill’: Duterte Tells Newly Appointed Police Chief.” News | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 18 Oct. 2019,

Reports, Special. “Blood and Benefits: Duterte Imposes His Formula on the Philippines.” Reuters Investigates, Reuters, 28 Dec. 2016,

Roth, Kenneth. “World Report 2019: Rights Trends in Philippines.” Human Rights Watch, 22 Jan. 2019,

Sapin, Leah. “Philippines’ ‘War on Drugs’.” Human Rights Watch, June 2018,

Staff, CNN Philippines. “Duterte Tells Controversial Cop Jovie Espenido: You Are Free to Kill Everybody.” CNN Philippines, CNN, 17 Oct. 2019,

Tadodino, Patrice. “‘If They Are Stubborn, Then We Will Kill Them’: Inside Rodrigo Duterte’s War on Drug Suspects in the Philippines.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 7 Oct. 2019.

“‘You Can Die Any Time’: Death Squad Killings in Mindanao.” Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch, 20 Mar. 2017,