HOW long can we remain unaffected by the extra-judicial killings that are happening right on our doorsteps?
Last week, over the course of a few days, 80 people, most of whom were our poorest compatriots, were reportedly killed by police in cold blood. Labeled by police as the “one-time big-time” push, the ramped-up killing campaign marks a terrifying resurgence of President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal drug war that has now, by some estimates, claimed the lives of 13,000 Filipinos. Despite earlier promises to eradicate drugs and criminality within 3 to 6 months, Duterte has stated that he would not stop until the last day of his term in 2022. The country is on a timeline to hell.
In May 2016, before taking office, Duterte threatened to kill drug users, drug pushers and criminals. He promised to deliver 100,000 bodies. He said corpses would fatten the fish in Manila Bay. In the immediate aftermath of Duterte’s presidential inauguration, bodies bound with tape started appearing all over the country.
Duterte declared that those killed could not be considered human and encouraged the public to kill. “If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful,” he said. Those caught in the cross-fire, many of whom had been children, Duterte deemed “collateral damage”. He vowed to pardon all police officers. “If you in the police or the military get into trouble in the performance of your duty, I will never allow you to be jailed,” he said. Many in his government echoed his words, including Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd. In October, Sen. Richard Gordon confidently stated: “I don’t think the killings are Duterte-inspired…I don’t think he’ll push anybody to kill.”
In November 2016, in what was widely believed to have been a “rub-out operation”, Rolando Espinosa Sr., a mayor of a town in Leyte, was murdered while he sat inside his jail cell. Despite a senatorial investigation that found the killing to have been pre-planned, by July the following year the 18 police officers involved had their murder charges downgraded to homicide. They were allowed to post bail and eventually reinstated to full duty. But that’s getting ahead of the timeline.
As 2016 drew to a close, the number of extra-judicial killings by police and unidentified motorcycle riding vigilantes had skyrocketed. By this time, counting the bodies was proving to be so much of a challenge that one could only make safe estimates—at least over 7,000 people. But for Duterte, it still wasn’t enough. He extended his deadline to March 2017.
In January 2017 there was a brief hiatus. It was discovered that in the previous October, police had murdered the Korean businessman, Jee Ick-joo, and tried to extort money from the dead man’s widow. Before the TV cameras, police chief Ronald dela Rosa feigned contrition. He said the anti-drug units would be “dissolved” and police ranks would be “cleansed”. “Then, maybe after that,” he said, “we can resume our war on drugs.” The following month, Sen. Leila de Lima, the President’s most vocal critic, was jailed. Duterte waved away his March deadline and the killings resumed.
In April, acting on a rumor that he was peddling drugs, masked vigilantes abducted Raymart Siapo, the 19-year-old son of a domestic worker in the Middle East. His abductors took him to a place where he was told to run. When they saw that he could not run because of his deformed feet, they sat him down, broke both his arms, and shot him twice in the head. His distraught mother returned home in a traumatized state.
In late June, in Manila’s portside slums of Navotas, 9 people were murdered in one night. Before the end of July, in the southern city of Ozamiz, Reynaldo Parojinog, a mayor and local warlord, along with members of his clan, including his wife, sister, brother and nephew, were killed. Given Parojinog’s own nefarious activities and bloodstained reputation, few senators were inclined to mount an investigation. Senator Panfilo Lacson viewed the murders as being “aboveboard”.
Last week’s anti-drug operations were the most terrible yet. From Monday midnight to Tuesday midnight, 32 people were killed in Bulacan. Thus far, this is thought to be the highest death toll to have occurred in a single day. Duterte responded by saying: “That’s beautiful. If we could kill 32 every day, then maybe we could reduce what ails this country.” On Wednesday night at least 25 people were killed. Among the many shot dead was Kian Lloyd de los Santos, a 17-year-old schoolboy.
The police report claimed that the boy was armed and was in possession of two packets of shabu. When the boy saw the officers approaching, the report states, he pulled out a gun and was shot dead. But Kian’s father and several witnesses speak of the boy’s innocence and the atrocious manner in which he was killed. Two policemen in plain clothes, they said, forcibly took the boy to the spot where he was executed. The abduction was captured on a CCTV camera. Footage shows Kian being dragged off wearing only a t-shirt and loose pajama shorts. The witnesses state that the police put a gun into his hands. Crying with fear, Kian had asked: “What shall I do with this?” To which the policeman answered: “Fire it, then run.”
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella called Kian’s murder an “isolated case.” Police chief and director of the National Capital Region, Oscar Albayalde, ordered an investigation and the police officers involved relieved of duty. Hollow words. Kian can expect as much justice as Raymart and the other thousands upon thousands of people that have been summarily executed.
The one-time big-time push follows a timeline that is propelling the country ever closer towards the abyss. Under this President, who everyday rules with fear, intimidation, divisiveness and hate, no one has been held accountable and punished for a single extra-judicial killing. Duterte has not only declared war on the poor but, as the human rights lawyer Jose ‘Chel’ Diokno believes, he wages a war against the rule of law.
Can we, in all conscience, support this? Can we go on with our daily lives without denouncing this horror? Or has Duterte shattered the nation’s moral compass?