Thousands called for an end to extrajudicial killings as the funeral of a boy killed by police turned into the largest single demonstration yet against President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal drug war.
The killing of 17-year-old Kian de los Santos last week triggered rare protests against Duterte’s controversial but popular campaign to eradicate drugs, with critics saying it highlighted rampant rights abuses by police enforcing the crackdown.
Since Duterte’s term began 14 months ago, police have reported killing 3,500 people in anti-drug operations, with thousands more murdered over drug-related crimes and in unexplained circumstances.
Duterte and his drug war are backed by a large majority of Filipinos fed up with high crime and a slow-moving judicial system, according to national polls.
But de los Santos’s murder has dominated the media and sparked public outrage.
Police said the teenager was a drug courier who fired at them while resisting arrest. However security footage emerged of two policemen dragging the unarmed boy away moments before he was killed.
After his family held a wake for him at home, around 3,000 people including his classmates, neighbors, nuns, priests and human rights activists marched under cloudy skies to protest his killing.
“Kian is the name and face of the truth. We must not allow the truth to die with Kian’s murder,” said Fr. Robert Reyes, one of several Catholic priests who offered Holy Mass for the boy on Saturday.
Duterte, who had controversially drawn parallels between his drug campaign to Hitler’s extermination of Jews and vowed to protect police from prosecution, has promised to bring the boy’s killers to justice.
The slow-moving procession snaked through narrow streets as participants, many wearing black ribbons, carried posters that read “Stop Killing the Poor,” “Justice for Kian,” and “Rehabilitation not Persecution.”
The cortege stopped briefly for prayers outside a police station where the three officers who had arrested the boy were deployed. They have since been suspended.
Following their claims of de los Santos being involved in the drugs trade, police told a Senate inquiry on Thursday that they only read about his alleged narcotics activity on “social media” after his death.
A police autopsy also concluded the boy was fatally shot in the head twice as he lay prone on the ground.
Amnesty International alleged in a report released in February that Philippine police shot dead defenseless people, fabricated evidence, paid assassins to murder drug addicts, and stole from those they killed or the victims’ relatives.
It also said police were being paid by their superiors to kill drug suspects, and documented victims as young as eight years old.