VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Jay Sonza misleads in saying Trump to copy Duterte’s drug war

Former broadcast journalist Jay Sonza, who has previously spread misleading information online, falsely claimed United States President Donald Trump “wants to replicate” President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war.

Sonza’s post made the rounds on the Web three days after Vice President Leni Robredo, co-chair of the Inter-agency Committee on Anti-illegal Drugs (ICAD), said she will be meeting with officials from the U.S. and the United Nations to talk about the government’s anti-illegal drugs campaign. VERA Files had earlier also fact-checked Sonza’s false attribution to the Duterte administration the integrated terminal for public utility vehicles project.


In a Nov. 12 Facebook (FB) post, Sonza claimed Trump intends to recreate Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs after U.S.-Mexican citizens were gunned down allegedly because of Mexican drug syndicates.

He wrote:

Pres. Donald Trump wants to replicate DU30’s War On Drugs in the USA after massacre of Americans by a Drug Cartel.”

Source: Sonza, J., “Pres. Donald Trump wants to replicate,” Nov. 12, 2019

Nine members of the LeBaron family who lived in an American Mormon community in Mexico died in an ambush allegedly set by an infamous drug cartel. Gunmen killed three women and six minors.


Sonza’s post is false. Trump never mentioned Duterte’s drug war in his pronouncement.

The U.S. president, in his official Twitter account, called only for Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to let the U.S. help Mexico in waging war against drug cartels to “wipe them off the face of the earth.”

@realDonaldTrump: This is the time for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth. We merely await a call from your great new president!

Source: @realDonaldTrump, “This is the time for Mexico,” Nov. 5, 2019

The Trump administration’s anti-illicit drugs campaign, as declared in the National Drug Control Strategy released by the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy in January, focuses on three specific reduction efforts: reduction of the number of drug users through “education and evidence-based prevention programs,” reduction of “barriers” to treatment services for individuals with “substance use disorder,” and reduction of the availability of illegal drugs in the U.S. through law enforcement and continuous partnership with international organizations.

Obrador has already turned down Trump’s offer, saying “war is irrational” and “not an option.”

Sonza’s misleading FB post got 2,200 reactions from FB netizens, and was shared over 300 times. It could have reached around 125,000 social media users. Its top traffic generators are FB pages Bayan Ko Ph and Bayan Bangon at Alamin.


In April 2017, a phone call between Trump and Duterte made the news after the American President commended Duterte’s move of waging war against illegal drugs in the Philippines. A transcript of their conversation shows Trump “congratulating” Duterte for doing a “great job” on the drug problem.

However, Trump never said that he will borrow the Philippine president’s way and use it on the U.S.’ own problem on illegal drugs.

Instead, it was Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena who expressed specifically his admiration towards Duterte’s bloody drug war. Last year, Sirisena announced through his spokesperson Rajitha Senaratne that Sri Lanka would start hanging drug offenders, as a way of “replicating the success” of the drug war in the Philippines.

Bangladesh in 2018 also launched its own war against illegal drugs, which the media branded as “Philippines-style.” Since the government crackdown, there has been a rise in the number of suspected drug offenders gunned down during police operations. The usual narrative behind the killings: the suspects allegedly resist arrest, resulting in a “gunfight” with the authorities.

Indonesia also intensified its own campaign, employing what reports call “Duterte-style.”

While the authorities of Bangladesh and Indonesia have not definitively credited Duterte’s policy as the inspiration for their actions, their respective anti-drug initiatives share similarities with the Philippines’ own.

The “war on drugs,” which Duterte declared as soon as he assumed office in 2016, traces its origin from 48 years ago in 1971, when then U.S. President Richard Nixon declared drug abuse as “public enemy number one.”



Sonza, J., “Pres. Donald Trump wants to replicate,” Nov. 12, 2019

Donald Trump Official Twitter Account, “This is the time for Mexico,” Nov. 5, 2019

Office of National Drug Control Policy, National Drug Control Strategy, January 2019

White House, Office of National Drug Control Policy, n.d.

The Guardian, Mexico: up to nine members of US Mormon family killed in ambush, Nov. 5, 2019

New York Post, Trump ready to help Mexico ‘wage war’ on drug cartels after US citizens are killed in crossfire, Nov. 5, 2019

Voice of America, Mexico’s President Dismisses Trump’s Suggestion About Waging War on Drug Cartels, November 6, 2019

The Washington Post, Transcript of call between President Trump and Philippine President Duterte, May 2, 2017

Time, Sri Lanka Will Start Hanging Its Drug Dealers to ‘Replicate the Success of Philippines,’ July 12, 2018

The Guardian, Sri Lanka to begin hanging drug dealers to ‘replicate success of Philippines,’ July 11, 2018

Rappler, Sri Lanka to hang drug criminals, replicate Philippines ‘success,’ July 11, 2018

Time, Hundreds Killed in Bangladesh Since Philippines-Style Drug Crackdown Began, Rights Groups Say, July 17, 2018

Time, Indonesia’s Drug Czar is Threatening a Duterte-Style War on Drug Dealers, Oct. 20, 2017

Voice of America, Indonesia Borrows Philippines Rhetoric to Revamp Drug War, Aug. 11, 2017

Vice, The Body Count In Indonesia’s Increasingly Brutal Drug War Keeps On Rising, Nov. 23, 2017

The Straits Times, More than 100 dead as Bangladesh drug war escalates, May 29, 2018

Reuters, Arrested and killed: inside the Bangladesh prime minister’s war on drugs, Aug. 13, 2018

History, War on Drugs, May 31, 2017

Encyclopedia Britannica, War on Drugs, n.d.

The Guardian, Nixon’s ‘war on drugs’ began 40 years ago, and the battle is still raging, July 24, 2011


(Guided by the code of principles of the International
Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims,
flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and
debunks them with factual evidence.
Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)