Children and teenagers are some of the latest victims in President Duterte’s brutal ‘war on drugs.’
In the Philippines, police and vigilantes have killed more than 7000 people in extrajudicial killings since July last year.
The tough talking, strong armed President has enjoyed high levels of popularity until now. Recent polls suggest that may not last.
Madonna Virola has this report from Caloocan City, near the capital Manila.
In a narrow alley of Caloocan City, houses are tightly packed together, and people almost bump into each other as they walk about.
I arrive at the cramped house of the delos Santos family. This is where 17 year old Kian Loyd delos Santos lived until he was killed in August, a victim of the Philippine’s so-called war on drugs.
Kian’s aunt Ivy leads me to a dark corner of the house. There Kian’s grandparents, Violeta and Antonio, are watching TV. A Senate hearing debates the circumstances of their grandson’s death.
“We want justice,” says seventy-nine-year-old Violeta. “He was framed. I was sitting just outside at around 6 in the evening when he came with a sausage-like dish, and he asked if that would help him to pass his exams the following day.”
Within hours, Kian was dead.
Police accused the boy of opening fire on officers during an anti-drug operation. They say he was killed in retaliation.
But Kian’s aunt Ivy told me that’s impossible. Kian would never have had the money to buy a gun.
This CCTV footage, along with eye witness accounts, confirm that Kian was unarmed, and that he was killed by police, who then dumped his body in an alley.
Human Rights Watch reports that more than 7000 people have been killed since President Duterte took office in July last year, and launched his deadly war on drugs. More than 3000 of them were killed by police.
In Kian’s community, local councilor Manuel Lim says Kian was a good kid, and if there were any suspicions about him, he deserved fair treatment in the justice system.
“He should have gone through the barangay, or the local justice system. Or he should have been taken the police station,” Lim commented. “We would treat him as a minor, with due process as outlined in the law”
Even President Rodrigo Duterte, who has encouraged extrajudicial killings, agreed that something went wrong in this operation.
“I agree that there should be an investigation. Should the investigation point to liabilities by one, two, or all, there will be a prosecution and they have to go to jail if convicted,” the President stated.
But Kian’s death isn’t isolated.
Two days later, 19-year-old Carl Angelo Arnaiz was gunned down by the police. His companion, 14-year-old, Reynaldo de Guzman, was also found stabbed to death.
At least 54 minors have been killed in either police operations or vigilante-style killings since July last year.
The Philippines’ bloody war on drugs is attracting international condemnation.
Meanwhile, inside the country, Senator Risa Hontiveros has vocally opposed the extrajudicial killings.
She claims that the violent war on drugs turns a blind eye to socio-economic roots of the issue. “It is willing to sacrifice even the special protection that must be accorded on vulnerable sectors of society, such as children and youth,” she said.
In September, 16 Senators filed a resolution urging the government to put a stop to the killing of minors.
The Philippines’ Juvenile Justice Act provides that every child in conflict with the law has the right to be treated with dignity, and not subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.
But Senator Hontiveros says Duterte’s tough on drugs approach totally abandons those principles.
“It totally tramples on the principle of the best interest of the child. It’s complicit in the wasting of public resources.” She continued, “it pays only lip service to the treatment and rehabilitation of those with problematic drug use.”
President Duterte and his justice secretary say that the murdered minors are just “collateral damage” in a tough war on drugs that will spare no one.
In the meantime, public protests are condemning the extrajudicial killings.
And a recent dip in Duterte’s overwhelming popularity may be linked to the killings.
Surveys show that many Filipinos fear that they or their families could randomly become victims.
The Catholic Church, one of the country’s most influential institutions, is calling for an end to extrajudicial killings.
Every night at 8 O’clock, church bells across the country ring out in remembrance of those killed by extrajudicial killings, urging prayer, and an end to the violence.