Southeast Asia | Now narco-mayors targeted in President Duterte's war against drugs

Now narco-mayors targeted in President Duterte’s war against drugs

Noel Tarrazona July 28, 2016 9:03 AM (UTC+8)
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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte seems to be committed to the war on drugs. After naming and shaming five generals for shielding drug lords, he turned to politicians linked to the mafia and the first to be arrested was a former mayor along with her soldier-husband. Two days later, in his State of the Nation Address, Duterte underlined the ongoing campaign against drugs, corruption and criminality. As hundreds assembled at the House of Congress applauded him, about 30,000 left leaning groups held a peaceful rally outside the House to show their support to Duterte.

MINDANAO, Philippines – After naming five generals who were reportedly serving as protectors of drug lords, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said his next move would be to target politicians involved in the supply of drugs.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte holds up a copy of his speech as he speaks before the lawmakers during his first State of the Nation Address at the Philippine Congress in Quezon city, Metro Manila
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte holds up a copy of his speech as he speaks before the lawmakers during his first State of the Nation Address at the Philippine Congress in Quezon city, Metro Manila, Philippines July 25, 2016. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Barely two weeks after his pronouncement, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), in coordination with the Philippine National Police, arrested former Lanao del Sur mayor Johaira Abinal and her husband Major Suharto Macabuat at their residence in the village of Kauswagan in Cagayan de Oro City in the Southern Philippines.

Recovered from the scene were a .45 caliber pistol, 21 packs of prohibited drugs known as “shabu” in the Philippines and thousands of Philippine Peso money. However, both Abinal and Macabuat denied the recovered illegal drugs belonged to them.

Police reports reaching Asia Times reveal that government authorities had been monitoring the movement of Abinal after intelligence reports pointed to her alleged involvement in the drugs trade.

While Philippine media described Abinal as “Mindanao drug queen” or “Drug queen of the South”, ABS-CBN said she has been involved in the multi-million dollar drugs trade since 2001 and supplied drugs to 85%-90% of Mindanao areas that includes Northern Mindanao, Eastern Mindanao, Central Mindanao, the Autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao, and also to some areas in Manila.

Rocks Rakim, a resident of Lanao, said to Asia Times he could hardly believe she has been arrested because of her clout with the authorities.

Prior to becoming President, Duterte said in his speeches that narco politics is destroying the lives of Filipinos and that drug lords are protected by unscrupulous elements in the government.

The arrest of Abinal happened barely two days before Duterte’s State of the Nation Address in which he underlined the ongoing campaign against drugs, corruption and criminality.

“We will not stop until the last drug lord, the last financier and the last pusher has surrendered or is put, either behind bars or below the ground, if they so wish,” Duterte said amid thunderous applause from hundreds of audience at the House of Congress.

He also outlined his plans to rehabilitate thousands of drug users.

“We will create an Inter-Agency Committee on Illegal Drugs that will integrate efforts and strengthen the partnerships of all stakeholders … the reservists will be mobilized for information campaign against drug use and the dissemination of information regarding drug rehabilitation programs being offered by the government. Let us also strengthen our ROTC Program to instill love of country and good citizenship,” he said.

Surprisingly, about 30,000 left leaning groups held rallies outside the House of Congress to show support to Duterte’s progressive and nationalist program. Their past rallies during such events were marked by the burning of presidents’ effigies and violent confrontation with police.

Asked what made these militants hold a peaceful rally this time, Dr. Adrian Semorlan, Asian Sociology professor, said to Asia Times that the marchers saw a different leader now.

According to Manila Bulletin, of Mindanao’s 22 million population, more than 17,000 drug traders and users have voluntarily surrendered themselves to the police for fear they might be killed by government authorities if caught.

The police earlier announced that 17,000 drug traders and users is a small number because there could be many people who do not want to surrender.

Between July 1 and July 25, as many as 544 suspected drug traders and users were killed in police encounters or summary executions while more than 100,000 people have surrendered to police authorities for profiling and recording purposes.

A handful of human rights advocates are calling on the President to stop extra judicial killings on suspected drug users and traders.

Duterte responded to them in the State of the Nation Address.

“Human rights must work to uplift human dignity but human rights cannot be used as a shield or excuse to destroy the country – your country and my country,” he said.

Noel Tarrazona is a former freelance Vancouver-based journalist and is presently in the Philippines. He is also a senior analyst of Wikistrat and can be reached at

Noel Tarrazona
Noel Tarrazona is a freelance international journalist and a graduate school lecturer.