Since July 2016, communities in the Philippines have been subjected to a violent nationwide police crackdown on illegal drugs, which has courted international condemnation and prompted a possible investigation to be opened by the International Criminal Court. The Philippine leader, Rodrigo Duterte, who took office as president in June 2016, rose to political power on the back of promises to end the country’s ‘drug crisis’.

The illicit drug economy of the Philippines exists – and thrives – owing to the complicity of law-enforcement agents, politicians and the military with the drug-trade networks. Ironically, the very people who are tasked with tackling the country’s illicit drug trades are instead colluding and cooperating with drug traders for their own financial gain. Police officers, soldiers and politicians of all ranks have assembled a protective net around the country’s drug markets for their own economic benefit, in what has become a highly enmeshed narco-political web. The chief of the Philippines National Police (PNP) has claimed that more than 300 of his officers are conspirators in the drug business, while the president of the Philippines, Duterte, in 2016 named five police generals as playing a central role in sustaining the drug trade. The sheer scale of this collusion led some members of the security sector to comment: ‘When the [drug war] campaign started, we realized that the problem was bigger than expected, with many branches of the political system deeply entrenched in the drug trade.’

A militarized political weapon - The Philippines' war on drugs

Download PDF
Share this article


Matthias Kennert

Matthias Kennert’s research focuses on implications of organized crime on security policy. He has worked on illicit gun proliferation and drug trafficking with International Alert Philippines, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and the German Embassy in Bolivia. Matthias has a bachelor’s degree in political management and a master’s degree in international relations.

Read more

Jason Eligh

Jason Eligh is a public health and human rights professional with extensive technical and development assistance programme design, management and delivery experience throughout Asia and Africa, including in fragile and conflicting-affected areas. He is a former technical expert and advisor with the United Nations, specializing in illicit drugs, drug use and trafficking. Prior to joining the UN he was an institutional researcher, focusing on the sociobehavioural & geographic dynamics of drugs and development; as well as a university lecturer in economics. Jason undertook the first in depth analysis of drug using behaviour and patterns among highland ethnic minority populations of the Vietnam – Lao – China borderlands, and he established one of the first harm reduction and needle syringe distribution programmes for people who use drugs in these communities. He has pursued the rights of detained populations across countries of East Asia and Africa, including working to reform national criminal justice systems and procedures, as well as developing public health intervention programmes centered on meeting the rights and needs of these prisoners and detainees. He has spent many years working with communities of people who use drugs and people who cultivate drugs, emphasizing the need to bring in their community voices to the redesign of national drug policies and legislation. His work has included also pioneering social research on drug production communities in conflict areas, developing national reform programmes for law enforcement agencies, and the negotiation of a ceasefire agreement between the Myanmar military and Shan ethnic forces. Currently Jason’s main areas of interest include illicit drug economies & geographies; transnational organized criminal networks; and, the political & policy impacts & responses to each.

Read more