Libertarianism presents many philosophical answers to how the rights of the minority can be protected: natural rights, a strong constitution, a society rooted in contract law, the list goes on. The scary, frustrating part is that such a large majority of people are willing to give up their rights and freedoms, along with everyone else’s. A key failure of Democracy is that it assumes that whatever most people want is best for the majority.
Rodrigo Duterte is a prime example of how a government that has the full support of its people (recent polls put him at 76% approval) can still fail to respect the rights of its citizens. This points to us needing a stronger princiople against restricting freedoms than merely the demands of the majority. The Philippines is an interesting case, as many of the moves Duterte makes are geopolitical. The persecution of drug users does more than just adhere to the morals of the highly religious country. It also helps cut down on the trade of drugs from China.
Regardless of the political ramifications, Duterte boasts that his slaughter of drug users and dealers will resemble the holocaust. This is obviously a major human rights violation. He’s vowed to kill 3 million drug addicts. That’s 3% of the entire population of the Philippines. For context, 3% of the world’s population was killed in World War Two. This is the exact opposite of sensible drug policy.
America’s drug war, while evil, looks downright petty compared to the horror going on in the Philippines. After all, the policies exist on the same continuum, with the latter enacting an extreme version of the former. Both spring from the belief that drug addiction is a moral failing, and that it’s a mistake people must be forcibly protected from making. But these narratives don’t hold up empirically. Initiatives like InSite in Vancouver Canada have shown that treating addicts and users like people with agency ends up being safer for themselves and society, as well as easier on the economy.
Moreover, there are allegations that Duterte is connected with the Davao death squad, which is a vigilante group accused of killing over a thousand petty criminals and drug users in Davao, where he served as mayor between 2013-2016 and Vice Mayor for two terms between 1986-1987 and 2010-2013. His daughter and son have held these positions as well. These killings have been justified by the same line of reasoning that allows Duterte to justify the larger scale operation he’s currently conducting. Furthermore many of the citizens of Davao supported these extrajudicial killings and the safety index of the city rose exponentially.
The ends do not justify the means and the fact that the majority is okay with killing the minority does not make it just to do so. Rodrigo Duterte is not the only example of a popular leader who sacrifices people’s rights to make them feel safer. Many politicians stubbornly trade real freedom for imagined security. Duterte does, however, stand out as an extreme example of what lies down that path: the death of millions deemed undesirable. It’s evidence that we as libertarians can not rely on the Democratic system to keep us safe. After all, it’s not hard to imagine us being labelled anti-government and deemed undesirable ourselves, is it?
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