Opinion: Newton’s third law and Duterte’s war on drugs

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. That’s Newton’s third law, and it’s something that is inescapable. It holds true across everything from the physics of our universe to the emotional responses of human beings to certain situations. It appears to be something that the current administration of the Philippines has neglected to take into consideration, although in some ways it is working in their favour, by and large what it is achieving is the destabilisation of the nation. Let’s take a look at a few examples.

The perceived economic positives of Duterte’s crusade against crime

The news broke with much fanfare a couple of weeks back. Big business is behind Duterte, FDI is going to increase and the Philippines is about to retake its position as one of the strongest economies in Asia. Cracking down on crime does tend to yield this sort of a response from business and, there’s also the fact that creating an environment where people are afraid not to toe the line generally results in them toeing it. Especially if they happen to be heavily financially invested in your jurisdiction.


The figure that has been quoted is the increase in the size of the economy, apparently since Duterte assumed office. For anyone who understands economic growth, this is not something that happens in a few weeks. Nor can it be used as a realistic indicator of the effectiveness of an administration in its first two months. The groundwork for this growth has been laid over of a far longer period of time. While I’m sure people will shoot me down for this statement and call me some yellow fanboy, that’s not the case. I am completely independant of the political situation in the country. I live here, but I’m a foreigner. Therefore I have no specific ability to influence the election of any administration. To be honest, I don’t really care who is in the palace. I do care about stability though.

If you’d like evidence of the consistent, year-on-year growth in the Philippines that has been occurring for most of the past six decades, just take a look at the below chart. As you can clearly see, the only hiccup in GDP growth in the Philippines was the 08 financial crash, and that downturn shows up on every GDP chart, no matter which country we’re talking about.

drug war


Of course, there’s also the next question. That’s the value of the currency. Let’s take a look at another chart which paints a very different picture:

drug war

See the dip in June? That was the election. Do you notice how the lines between dips and rises get closer together after the election? That’s the uncertainty. Uncertainty around what? Stability. I’d like to also disclose at this point that the vast majority of my income is derived from overseas in foreign currency. Dips in the peso are great news for people like me. They’re also good news for OFWs. They’re not really good news for anyone who regularly uses local currency to pay for imported products in the course of their day-to-day lives or while conducting their business activities.


Now that we’ve debunked the myth of Duterte’s superhero-like impact on the economy of the Republic, let’s take a look at a word that I mentioned in the last paragraph. Stability. What does stability mean for the way that this is all going to play out?

Why stability matters?

Stability matters because instability is not good for foreign investment, nor is hardline rhetoric against a country’s largest trading partners. The way in which Duterte is thumbing his nose at the United Nations, the United States and, yes, even the Chinese is no path to peace, nor to growth.

The problem with Pinoy Pride is that aficionados of that particular mindset tend to ignore the fact that, in order to continue to benefit from international economies (and yes, that includes OFWs and FDI) they need to maintain good relations with them. The alternative is that the country ends up getting thrown on its own sword. Those tight fluctuations in the value of the currency really can’t continue.

There is already a lot of discussion globally about how safe it is to invest here. That narrative is occurring between both businesspeople who might like to invest in industries such as business process outsourcing and by people who might consider moving here.

In short, everyone is uncomfortable. What’s the result of that discomfort? Less money coming in. What does that mean for foreigners already in the country? It’s good news for us, as the peso goes down our purchasing power goes up. What does it mean for locals who do not have access to an income from abroad? Their purchasing power goes down.

But what about drugs? They’re a scourge that must be stamped out!

I don’t disagree that drugs are a scourge on this country. I also agree that the illegal drug trade needs to be stamped out. I find it hard to accept that an end to due process is the way to resolve this problem. Of course proponents of Duterte’s approach would respond to that by saying that it doesn’t matter, it’s short-term pain for long-term gain and, well, who cares about the collateral damage? Ask the parents of little Danica May from Dumaguete. The 5-year-old girl who was shot because her grandfather was being targeted. Her grandfather was targeted without proof but rather because “someone had put him on a list”.

If the current administration is so certain that this is the way forward, it is only going to increase instability.

It is obvious that certain foreign nationals have deliberately used the corruption in the Philippines as an opportunity to use the country as a throughway and production point for illegal substances. Everyone from the Chinese to the Mexicans. If you read that last statement objectively then what really needs to be attacked is the corruption. Not the street-level dealers. At this stage I’d say it’s worth noting that while many people have been summarily executed and had cardboard signs put next to their bodies for a photoshoot, the apparent “elite coddlers” have been given the opportunity to surrender. Yes, a few apparent “drug lords” have been killed, but why is it that their enablers have only been asked to come to Camp Crame? Surely the execution of the people who are being “coddled” or “enabled” is a fool’s errand?

What about Abu Sayyaf?

This is a very interesting point. Duterte took the NPA and invited them into his cabinet while unleashing showers of angry rhetoric in the direction of the Mindanao Muslims. Both groups have reacted similarly to his administration with a very firm display of their concerns. Both of these responses have been violent. When the NPA did it he called off the ceasefire. When Abu Sayyaf did it he put the country under a state of lawless violence.

A state of lawless violence

He has every right, as president, to declare what he has declared. The issue is that he’s making these decisions based on his own political desires. The man has already clearly demonstrated that he’s a control freak. Now that he’s taken the first step, the next two steps end somewhere that this country doesn’t want to go. Especially when it comes to stability, FDI and people moving here.

From my perspective, I really don’t care. We will leave. I’ll take another Filipina and another half-caste child out of the country and we’ll go and contribute somewhere else. I really do pity those who don’t have that option and, unfortunately, it seems those are the ones supporting his crusade.

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