Amnesty Int'l leader says Duterte's war on drugs 'bound to fail'

Rachel Hermosura, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 05 2016 09:43 PM

Jennelyn Olaires hugs the dead body of her partner Michael Siaron, 30, a pedicab driver and an alleged drug pusher at LRT EDSA Rotonda in Pasay City, Metro Manila on July 23, 2016. Siaron was killed by unidentified gunmen. Basilio Sepe, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - British billionaire and philanthropist Richard Branson believes President Rodrigo Duterte's vow to fight criminality and illegal drugs within six months is "bound to fail," as he criticized the Philippine leader for what has turned out to be a bloody war.

"Fighting fire with fire won't work. The Philippines must reverse course immediately and choose evidence-based policies that put people first, reduce harm and put an end to these atrocities," Branson wrote on the website of Virgin Group, the conglomerate which he founded.

Branson is also a known human rights campaigner who is now part of the global council of the watchdog group Amnesty International.

Branson said, illegal drugs are "a renewable resource" and that crime groups will always find a way to continue the illicit trade.

"Tough law enforcement and zero tolerance will do nothing to reduce supply or demand of illegal drugs in the grand scheme of things. It's been a bitter lesson for dozens of countries, from the US to Latin America," he added.

Branson also expressed alarm over the deaths of drug suspects and cases of extrajudicial killings in the country.

"Friends familiar with the situation on the ground tell me that watch lists of alleged suspects are circulating, including club or bar owners that are now being considered 'drug pushers,' as are politicians representing areas of high drug use. These lists have fuelled the ambitions of trigger-happy gunmen to do as they please. And more people are being killed because the actual drug lords are fighting back and killing people who they think would be whistleblowers," Branson said.

A police officer processes documents of drug suspects at a warehouse for drug addicts in Tondo, Manila on July 13, 2016. Hundreds of thousands of self-confessed drug users have surrendered to law enforcers after the implementation of “Oplan Tokhang” as part of Duterte's campaign against illegal drugs. Photo by Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Branson also cited the rising number of drug users who have surrendered to authorities, which may pose a problem for the Philippines' clogged prison system.

"It's a situation that has spun completely out of control," Branson said.

Branson took note of President Duterte's recent remarks in support of human rights and rule of law, but the popular businessman seemed unconvinced.

"To me, and many others, these are clear and unacceptable violations of international human rights standards the Philippines signed to uphold. Given how systematic and widespread these extrajudicial killings are, I wonder how long it will be until someone points out that what has been unfolding are actual crimes against humanity," Branson said.

Branson's latest piece echoed his statements during a leadership forum in the Philippines last May, where he said that death penalty would not solve crime and that treating drug dependents as criminals will not help the crackdown on illegal drugs.

Branson is a known human rights campaigner who recently joined the board of global watchdog group Amnesty International.