"Shabu is different": Extrajudicial Killings, Death Penalty, and 'Methamphetamine Exceptionalism' in the Philippines

Document Type


Publication Date



Background: This paper articulates and problematises the 'exceptionalism' in the way shabu (crystal methamphetamine) is framed in political and popular discourse in the Philippines, and how these framings have informed and enabled the drug regime in the country, creating a 'state of exception' and justifying the killing-whether extrajudicially or through the death penalty-of people associated with the particular drug.

Methods: Two case studies are presented in this paper to demonstrate how political and civil society actors treat shabu, drawing on official statements, journalistic reportage, and published articles from various sources as empirical material, and using a problematisation framework to guide analysis.

Discussion: 'Methamphetamine exceptionalism' pervades public discourse in the Philippines, creating a social and political environment that is permissive for, if not outright supportive of, draconian measures particular toward people associated with shabu. Such views are rooted in the perception that shabu is especially dangerous as opposed to other drugs, thereby posing an exceptional threat to the body politic.

Conclusion: This paper underscores the importance of nuance in constructing and interrogating the objects of drug policy, given that different drugs are treated differently. Policy and communication interventions must therefore specifically address the ways in which shabu has been framed to justify not only Duterte's deadly drug war, but other such wars throughout the region.