Apple Removes Games promoting Duterte’s War on Drugs
The Asian Network of People who Use Drugs (ANPUD) led a global petition demanding Apple Incorporation’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mr. Tim Cook to urgently perform a formal review and remove all the apps made available by Apple immediately and issue an apology for hosting insensitive content. The letter was submitted to Mr. Cook on October 10, 2017. Our sincere thanks to the 131 organizations who supported the letter.
The petition was a successful advocacy effort in that the letter was able to generate huge media attention and some of the games were removed from the App Store. The case study is intended to document the story of victory and disseminate the detailed set of actions performed in the process. We hope that it will inform and inspire more advocacy actions from ANPUD as well as the community of people who use drugs facing challenges at different level.
In June 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines waged his bloody war on drugs with a nation-wide campaign called “Oplan Tokhang” – a portmanteau of two words meaning ‘to knock’ and ‘to plead’. The initially declared 90-days war, envisioned to end criminality, illegal drugs and corruption, was extended until 6 months, and yet it continued at the same scale even after a year with no sign of delivering the promised results to the people of the Philippines.
As of this document was being developed, it had been a political debate on whether the killings were extrajudicial and if it constituted a crime against humanity. However, it could not change the fact that more than 13,000 people – many of them children – ostensibly suspected of using or selling drugs had lost their lives.
The truth was that it had merely been a ‘War on Poor’ bringing destruction to millions of lives of people who use drugs, including to thousands who were imprisoned under inhumane conditions and to the families and children of those who were killed.
Amid such crisis, numerous apps were made available through Apple App Store that actively promoted the war on people who use drugs in the Philippines. Some of these games had been downloaded by over a million iphone users. These games had to be removed immediately.
The Letter Drafting Process
It was mid-September 2017 when these insensitive games came into our attention. We immediately took some screenshots and shared it with the group of concerned regional community, human rights and drug policy reform groups/organizations called ‘Regional Response Team’, that was formed specifically to discuss issues pertaining to the Philippines war on drugs. The group members suggested ANPUD to take the lead on a joint statement or file a complaint to Apple.
Before even going forward with the letter we brain stormed within the secretariat on how the games were promoting or linked to the extrajudicial killings and war on drugs in the Philippines. Secondly, we studied the Apple App Store Review Guideline to identify languages in the guideline that could make the letter stronger.
On the same day we drafted a letter addressed to the Apple CEO Mr. Tim Cook and sent it out to a small group, including ANPUD Executive Board, the International People who Use Drugs (INPUD), International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) and few Filipinos based in Bangkok to collect their comment and feedback. It took us about a week to collect and incorporate everyone’s suggestions into the letter. Three different versions of the letter are kept as annexes to provide an idea of the overall process of developing the letter – the original draft of the letter (Annex I); Draft Letter Work in Progress (Annex II); and the final version that was submitted to Apple CEO (Annex III) – Download PDF to view Annexes.
The Sign-On Process and submission to Apple CEO
The letter was aimed at the global community to collect at least 100 signatories and this would have never been possible without some helping hands. A call for sign-on page (Stand with ANPUD) was developed on the ANPUD website[i] and it was shared on Facebook, Twitter, ANPUD membership (e-group) and among country networks of people who use drugs. We also requested network/organizations with global coverage like INPUD, IDPC and StopTheDrugWar.org to share the letter (with the link to the sign-on page) on their mailing lists. The sign-on went on for around 20 days.
On October 10, 2017, the letter was submitted to the Apple CEO via email. A copy of the email was forwarded to all the signatories to inform them about the submission. We were quite uncertain if our email submission had landed on Mr. Cook’s inbox. Therefore, we immediately made the letter public with a media release to ensure one way or another Apple Inc. received our message. The media release was sent out to the entire signatory organizations except this time we included media correspondents of Inquirer, Reuters and few freelancers.
The petition was signed by 131 organizations including community, human rights and drug policy reform groups from across 35 countries globally.
Signatory organizations included many community-led network/organizations of people who use drugs, human rights and drug policy reform organizations. It was really inspiring to have had received such level of support globally.
The media release had over 700 visitors and 178 shares solely from ANPUD’s website.[ii] It was featured by Philippines national and international online media like CNN Philippines[iii], Philstar[iv], Reuters[v], Inquirer[vi], Mashable[vii], ABS CBN News[viii], Mac Rumors[ix], Inside Manila[x] and many more[xi-xx] taking our coverage to the next level.
For an instance, the news published by CNN Philippines alone reached 3.7K views, 283 shares and over 600 comments from pro-Duterte Filipinos. Similarly, the video news featured by CNN Philippines had 17K views on Facebook. Regional stakeholders commended ANPUD especially for bringing the Philippines war on drugs back into the attention of the global community through the sign-on and media coverage it was able to receive.
We did not receive a direct response from Mr. Cook or Apple Inc. however, most of the apps (games) no longer appear in the search result of app store. These games include ‘Duterte knows Kung Fu: Pinoy Crime Fighter’, ‘Duterte Running Man Challenge Game, ‘Fighting Crime 2’, ‘Tsip Bato: Ang Bumangga Giba!’ that featured Duterte or Philippine National Police chief Bato De La Rosa shooting down criminals.
We at ANPUD realized that the success did not limit to the results of the initiative. We have established a connection with the great activists, organizations and media around the world. Having received the identity as the Asian Network of People who Use Drugs by the media, we strive to becoming one of the most influential network of people who use drugs.