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President Duterte’s War on the Poor

Rodrigo Duterte is the current President of the Philippines.  Since he won the 2016 election, the Philippines has experienced significant economic growth, seeing GDP increase by 6.88% in 2016 and 6.69% in 2017.[1]  This success has continued, with a GDP increase of 6.80% in the first half of 2018 alone.[2]  This meteoric economic growth mirrors the rate  of other successful developing countries such as China and India.[3]  President Duterte’s approval ratings, at 75% in the third quarter of 2018, reflect the country's surging economy.[4]  However, lurking in the background of the regime’s success are the severe human rights violations that President Duterte stands accused of  sanctioning during his continued “War on Drugs.”

The number of individuals incarcerated or killed in President Duterte’s War on Drugs is staggering for a country of roughly 107 million people.  To date, the Filipino government has reported 3,967 “drug personality” related deaths, 16,355 homicide cases “under investigation”, and 1,426,365 people who have either been apprehended or surrendered.[5]  To compare, the population in the United States is roughly 325 million, and in 2016 the total number of incarcerated citizens was 2.2 million.[6]  Even more troubling are the numerous reports that children, such as Kian delos Santos, are being killed in the President’s war.[7]  President Duterte has attempted to justify the deaths of innocent people asmere “collateral damage” for the greater good.[8]  With the Filipino government suspending all rights of due process[9]and the arrest of President Duterte’s leading critic, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV[10], the International Criminal Court (ICC) may be the best chance to curtail President Duterte’s actions.  

The ICC is currently investigating two separate charges for crimes against humanity have been brought against President Duterte.[11]  The first complaint was brought by a Filipino lawyer,the second  by surviving family members of individuals killed by Philippine police officers.[12]  Whether these charges can succeed depends on  whether the ICC has authority over President Duterte. This problem was exacerbated when the President Duterte withdrew the Philippines from the ICC.[13]  The ICC can only exercise prosecutorial authority on an individual when the individual is a national of a party to the ICC’s enabling statute, namely the Rome Statute.[14]  Once a nation is a party, it can refer crimes committed within its territory to the ICC.[15]  Although President Duterte has withdrawn the Philippines from the Rome Statute, individuals from the ICC have stressed that this would not prevent the organization from prosecuting individuals who committed crimes prior to the withdrawal.[16]  Furthermore, members of the Filipino Congress have challenged President Duterte’s withdrawal from the ICC as invalid since the withdrawal from international treaties must be ratified by the Congress as well.[17]

President Duterte’s unilateral aggressive actions against his own people have gone largely unchecked.  The purpose of the ICC is to serve as a check on a nation’s government when it is unequipped or refuses to protect its own citizenry from brazen atrocities.[18]  Although President Duterte has made strides in improving the Filipino economy, this cannot continue at the expense of a significant percentage of its citizens.

Andrew Calamari is a staff member of Fordham International Law Journal Volume XLII

This post is a student blog post and in no way represents the views of the Fordham International Law Journal.


[1]The World Bank, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.KD.ZG?locations=PH (last visited Oct. 18, 2018)

[2]Panos Mourdoukoutas, Duterte Is Rising, (July 14, 2018), https://www.forbes.com/sites/panosmourdoukoutas/2018/07/14/duterte-is-rising/#8dfb26865d10.


[4]Patricia Viray, Duterte’s Approval, Trust Ratings Fall (Sept. 25, 2018), https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2018/09/25/1854580/dutertes-approval-trust-ratings-fall-pulse-asia

[5]Ted Regencia, Rodrigo Duterte’s Drug War Has Killed 20,000 (Feb. 21, 2018), https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/02/senator-rodrigo-duterte-drug-war-killed-20000-180221134139202.html.

[6]Jon Gramlich, America’s Incarceration Rate is at a Two-Decade Low (May 2, 2018), http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/05/02/americas-incarceration-rate-is-at-a-two-decade-low/.

[7]Kian delos Santos was a 17-year-old Filipino student who was shot outside his home by police officers who claimed that Kian had fired a gun at them although video surveillance showed no such shooting had occured.  Regencia, supra note 5.

[8] Oliver Holmes Duterte Says Children Killed in Philippines Drug War are Collateral Damage, The Guardian, (Oct. 17, 2016) https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/17/duterte-says-children-killed-in-philippines-drug-war-are-collateral-damage.

[9]Karen Lema, Duterte to Withdraw Philippines from ICC After Outrageous Attacks(Mar. 14, 2018), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-philippines-duterte-icc/duterte-to-withdraw-philippines-from-icc-for-violations-of-due-process-idUSKCN1GQ0MA?feedType=RSS&feedName=newsOne.

[10] Duterte Critic Arrested as ‘Darkness and Evil’ Prevail in Philippines, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/sep/25/duterte-critic-antonio-trillanes-iv-hits-out-at-darkness-and-evil-philippines.

[11]Felipe Villamor, Duterte Says, ‘My only Sin is the Extrajudicial Killings’ (Sept. 27, 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/27/world/asia/rodrigo-duterte-philippines-drug-war.html.



[14]Shannon Fyfe, Bolton is Just Plain Wrong on the International Criminal Court (Oct. 1, 2018), https://thehill.com/opinion/white-house/409197-bolton-is-just-plain-wrong-on-the-international-criminal-court.


[16]Lema, supranote 9.

[17]Gaea Cabico, ICC Withdrawal a Shared Power of President, Senate – Petitioners(Sept. 4, 2018), https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2018/09/04/1848645/icc-withdrawal-shared-power-president-senate-petitioners.

[18]Invisible Children, (last visited Oct. 18, 2018) https://invisiblechildren.com/blog/2012/04/05/origin-and-purpose-of-the-international-criminal-court/.