Acting on his campaign promise to eradicate drug-related crimes within six months in office, President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered law enforcement to go full force on their anti-crime efforts. Suspected drug lords, dealers and coddlers were named, captured and neutralized, and vast quantities of illegal drugs were seized. The massive Oplan Tokhang filtered down to the barangay level resulting in thousands of encounters and deaths among suspected pushers, a casualty rate that has caught the attention of human rights advocates. A legislative bill to reinstate capital punishment and another to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility are now poised for deliberation in the legislative branch.

Conflicting views between administration supporters and critics have sparked, and heated debates have erupted in various public platforms. President Duterte himself has locked horns with international leaders and the foreign press over his hardline stance against drugs at the expense of human rights, according to rights groups. The heightened emotions, inflammatory language and sense of moral panic in the public discourses on crime and punishment have obscured clearer insights into the central issues of crime and punishment.

The Philippine Social Science Council (PSSC), the Philippine Criminal Justice Researchers Society (PCJRS) and International Alert (Philippines) organize the conference Beyond Politics and Spectacle: Studies on Crime and Punishment to elevate the discourse on drugs and crime to a systematic, scholarly and multidisciplinary level of discussion. The conference brings forth social science tools to critically analyze data on illegal drugs, wider criminality, socio-cultural and behavioral dimensions of drug addiction, the social and economic aspects of the war on drugs. It aims to take stock of the levels of illegal drug trade and other criminal enterprises in the Philippines, and provide comparative, cross-national perspectives into the ongoing anti-crime campaign. It further seeks to address the question of effectiveness and long-term impact of the current administration’s anti-crime strategies and approaches to punishment, including the re-imposition of capital punishment.