The Drug War and Human Trafficking: Potential Implications for the Philippines

This post was originally published on this site


By Bryna Rabehl, Research Assistant

The relationship between drugs and human trafficking is incredibly complex and varied. The multifaceted ways in which drugs intersect with and integrate within human trafficking cannot be confined to a single overlap. Moving away from the common tendency to study these forms of trade as separate, or narrowly linked, an examination of the ongoing war on drugs occurring in the Philippines must be performed as extrajudicial killings continue, incarceration increases, and the drug trade inevitably shifts.

Recruiting and Retaining Victims

Drugs can serve as a tool to recruit individuals for exploitation and can be used to force a victim to comply with demands, work longer hours, and with more intensity. This can exacerbate a victim’s reliance and dependency on their trafficker. Many individuals addicted to drugs may enter the trade to support their habits, and subsequently fall under the control of the individuals who have trafficked them.

In Davao City, the cost of methamphetamines has nearly doubled due to the risks faced by individuals who sell drugs. Filipinos facing addiction may be more desperate to locate illicit substances and may become indebted to suppliers due to the increased costs. On the other hand, the increased costs may prove to be unprofitable as a tool for retaining trafficking victims when compared to the profit that can be made from selling the illicit drugs at their inflated price.

Low Risk, High Profit

Confronting the growing risks of detention and death associated with the drug trade, many former drug traffickers may choose to enter into the arena of human trafficking instead. The risks associated with human trafficking are significantly lower than those of the illicit drug trade as there are much fewer international and domestic controls used to address these threats. For criminal groups that have pre-existing businesses within human trafficking and the drug market, the shift to a less risky, more profitable focus solely within human trafficking could be advantageous.

Supply and Demand

The drug trade requires a constant resupplying of their illicit products, and those products can only be sold once. Humans on the other hand, can be exploited repeatedly without the need for further investment. The Philippines claims a 90% cut in illegal drug supply as a result of their war on drugs. While this statistic may be debatable, the fact still stands that drug traffickers and users are being targeted at high rates. This has led to increased killings and incarceration, resulting in a decimated user market and a suppressed demand.


Corruption is a key factor contributing to human trafficking and the drug trade. President Rodrigo Duterte has noted this corruption through his insistence on moving beyond targeting street-level pushers, and towards drug lords and corrupt officials as well. Corruption among officials within human trafficking has been pervasive and remains a consistent obstacle to eradication within the Philippines. The incentives for corrupt officials to engage in human trafficking remains steady, leaving little changed in the dismantling of corrupt networks connected to human trafficking. As the fight against drugs increases, attention may continue to shift away from human trafficking.

Counter Drug Policies

As can be seen through the government of Thailand’s counter narcotic policy, policies can have negative impacts on human trafficking when not met with supplemental economic programs. As a result of Thailand’s counter narcotic policies, tribal communities that had become dependent on the profits earned from the illicit drug trade were faced with limited financial opportunities. As a result, the trafficking of young women in these areas swelled.

Drug Smuggling

Human traffickers also exploit victims of trafficking to smuggle drugs across borders. Due to the prevalence and priority of prosecuting drug offences, when these individuals are caught, they are most often prosecuted on drug related charges, and their status as a victim of human trafficking is rarely considered. This drug-focused prosecution has augmented a high-profit, low-risk industry for traffickers as seen through the case of Mary Jane Veloso, a victim of trafficking from the Philippines who was arrested for smuggling heroin into Indonesia. For traffickers who use victims as drug mules, Veloso’s currently undecided case has the potential to highlight the risks, or lack thereof, involved with the drug smuggling industry through the use of trafficked individuals.

In the case of the Philippines, strong and fear-inducing drug policies have been met with low risk and stagnant human trafficking policies. Under the Duterte administration’s narrow focus on the drug war, an opportunity for expansion and adaptation through pre-existing links within criminal groups has the potential to present itself in new and innovative ways.


*The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the position of the HTC

Photo Credit: TheDigitalWay via Pixabay


About the Human Trafficking Center

The Human Trafficking Center, housed in the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, is the only two-year, graduate-level, professional-training degree in human trafficking in the United States. One way graduate students contribute to the study of human trafficking is by publishing research-based blogs. The HTC was founded in 2002 to apply sound research and reliable methodology to the field of human trafficking research and advocacy.

Founded in 1964, the Josef Korbel School of International Studies is one of the world’s leading schools for the study of international relations. The School offers degree programs in international affairs and is named in honor of its founder and first dean, Josef Korbel.


Note: There is a print link embedded within this post, please visit this post to print it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *