Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte met with Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo recently as part of his tour around the region. During that meeting, which took place on 9 September, Duterte spoke extensively on his country’s fight against illegal drugs. After the visit, Duterte compared the drug situation in the Philippines to that in Indonesia, saying in a speech, ‘On our case we have 3 million [drug addicts], that number is not a joke. I talked to Widodo, he has 4 million… I told him, Mr. President. It’s good you have the death penalty here. At least you can bring it down to the barest minimum’. Both leaders have also expressed interest in seeking ways to increase co-operation in combatting drug trafficking in the region.
Jokowi’s interest in combining forces with the Philippines will be a concern to human rights groups given the severity of Duterte’s current campaign against drugs. In the first ten weeks of Manila’s “war on drugs”, over one thousand people have been killed in police operations. Duterte has been unapologetic for his campaign, declaring that in his war on drugs ‘I don’t care about human rights’, and that ‘More people will be killed, plenty will be killed until the last pusher is out of the streets’. Hand-in-hand with Duterte’s “war on drugs”, there has been an increased funding for the military and police at the expense of funding for health services, which has been reduced by around 25 per cent.
While Indonesia has been criticised for its death penalty for drug smugglers in the past, the government does not appear to be dissuaded from pursuing Duterte’s (perhaps more controversial) version of a “war on drugs”. Indonesian National Narcotics Agency (BNN) Commander General Budi Waseso has announced plans to procure more equipment to strengthen Indonesia’s fight against drug traffickers. As well as upgrading surveillance tools and detectors, Budi spoke of procuring more firearms including pistols, assault rifles and larger weapons to break through containers or steel safety boxes. This is concerning in light of Budi’s response to a question on the extrajudicial killing of drug suspects: ‘Let’s say [the drug dealer] has killed 100 people. Which one is more serious: a human rights violation that the BNN commits by executing one drug dealer, or killing 100 people? It’s definitely the latter, so it’s not a problem’. This could also be seen as an opportunity for the Indonesian National Armed Forces (TNI) to leverage their political influence. Duterte has already called on the Philippine military to bolster the country’s campaign and the TNI may attempt to sway lawmakers who have previously debated on the military’s role in catching drug offenders.
Weaponising Indonesia’s fight against drugs risks moving from executions through the justice system to the shoot-on-site method seen in the Philippines. If this goes ahead, it is unlikely to face much opposition from the Indonesian populace. In the case of the Philippines, Duterte’s anti-drug campaign is generally well-received amongst many Filipinos although it’s quickly becoming divisive. Most Indonesians currently support capital punishment for those guilty of drug trafficking and any opposition to fighting Indonesia’s drug problem in the style of the Philippines will prominently come from outside rather than within. Perhaps a more decisive debate in Indonesia will be whether the Indonesian military should have a part to play.