Nearly 2,000 people have been killed in the Philippines by police and vigilante groups since President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal crackdown on suspected drug users and traffickers began when he took office on June 30, according to national police figures. Police insist they are following rules of engagement, but Duterte has adopted a "take no prisoners" approach, saying at police headquarters in July: “Do your duty, and if in the process you kill 1,000 persons because you were doing your duty, I will protect you.” 

Police blame most of the killings on drug cartels, and they point to rapidly falling crime rates as evidence that their strategy is working. Human rights groups have been quick to point out those killed have been the most disadvantaged in society. But in August, Duterte expanded his hit list to include more than 150 current and former government officials he says are involved in the drug trade. He cited no evidence.

Duterte threatened to pull the Philippines out of the United Nations after the UN released statements criticising his anti-drug campaign. UN experts said the president’s calls to kill suspected drug traffickers "amount to incitement to violence and killing, a crime under international law”.

The Philippines has experienced a rise in the use of crystal methamphetamine, known locally as “shabu”. The Philippines’ Dangerous Drugs Board counted 1.3 million drug users nationwide in a 2012 study, but lawmakers have said the figure is closer to 10 million, about 10 percent of the population. Other groups put the number of problematic drug use at three percent and say users need help and treatment, and that the situation should be treated as a public health crisis.

Since Duterte, often called, “The Punisher”, took office, hundreds of thousands have turned themselves in to authorities, straining an already overburdened rehabilitation and criminal justice system. His approval rating soared to 91 percent, according to a recent Asian Pulse poll, and strong support for him continues. On Tuesday, we’ll discuss the nation’s drug problem and look at the government’s response to it. Who is holding Duterte accountable, and where do Filipino citizens draw the line when it comes to his bloody war on drugs?

On this episode of The Stream, we speak to:

Aries Arugay @ariesarugay  
Political Scientist, University of the Philippines-Diliman 

Phelim Kine @phelimkine
Deputy Director, Asia Division, Human Rights Watch

Rechi Cristobal 
Addiction specialist

Vitaliano Aguirre @dojph
Secretary, Department of Justice

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