MANILA, Philippines (ViaNews) – “Please stop. Please stop. I have a test tomorrow.”
These were among the last words heard from Grade 12 student Kian delos Santos as he was being manhandled by the police one August evening. Later, he was found dead, with an autopsy report revealing he was shot twice in the head. The police said Kian had put up a fight but a closed-circuit video footage has revealed otherwise – he was being dragged by the police to the spot where he was later found killed — prompting massive protests here in the Philippines.
Unfortunately, Kian is not an isolated case as the Philippine police initially claimed. Children and minors have sadly fallen victims to Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, a dreadful situation considering that the Philippine government is a signatory to the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child and has even signed a monumental agreement in its peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines titled Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect of Human Rights and the International Humanitarian Law that specifically stipulates among its provisions the right of the children to be protected from drugs.
The Philippine government’s human rights body, the Commission on Human Rights, said at the height of the controversy of Kian’s murder that they are investigating the killing of at least six children in the course of the carrying out of the war on drugs. Since their pronouncement, however, more children and minors have become victims not just in legitimate police operations but also killings carried out by unidentified assailants that remain unresolved as of this writing.
Children and minors are being targeted in the war on drugs. For one, a 13-year-old Jayross Brondial was shot dead in front of his house in Pasay City by a gunman wearing a full-face helmet on the afternoon of September 24, even when the country was still grieving the killing of Kian.
Others have become the so-called “collateral damage” in the Philippine government’s war on drugs. In September 2016, Althea Barbon, 4, died from the gunshot wounds she sustained during a police operation against her father. Three months later, a five-year-old boy was killed along with his father when a gunman peppered their homes with bullets. His father had earlier surrendered to authorities for illegal drugs use.
Still, many children and minors are survivors and witnesses to killings, resulting in trauma and distress.
“Now I’m afraid. I don’t want to go outside,” said a child survivor of a drug-related attack in a news report.
Time and again, critics have called on President Rodrigo Duterte to put a stop to his bloody war on drugs. However, there seems to be no letting down. Not even when the children are at risk. The Philippine police had earlier estimated that there are at least 26,000 children who are involved in either use or peddling of illegal drugs.
Only the poor are killed
Apart from the harrowing impacts of the war on drugs on children, a recent non-commissioned survey revealed that many Filipinos believe that only the poor are getting killed in Duterte’s war on drugs.
The said survey, conducted by the Social Weather Stations, at least sixty percent of Filipinos strongly and somewhat agreed that the “rich drug pushers are not killed; only the poor ones are killed.” About 75 percent of those who agreed came from Metro Manila.
Interestingly, the same survey also revealed that nearly half of Filipinos are not sure on the police narrative that those who ended up killed in their operations had put up a fight.
Jigs Clamor, deputy secretary general of Karapatan, a human rights group here in the Philippines, said earlier this year that the drug menace can be eliminated without curtailing the rights of the people, most especially of the poor.
“The government should instead strive to improve the living conditions of the Filipinos, especially the marginalized, by providing them secure jobs with living wages, free education and healthcare, and land to cultivate,” Clamor said.
President Duterte has long been given pieces of advice on the need to address the impoverished conditions that many Filipino people are going through to finally end illegal drug peddling, use, among others. This included no less than former Colombia president Cesar Gaviria.
Gaviria said in a New York Times article that taking a hard line against criminals is “always popular for politicians.”
Colombia has made it to the headlines for its war on drugs, often described as focusing on law enforcement and prohibitionist policies, much like in the Philippines. Such is not surprising as Colombia has, time and again, been infamously known as the world’s largest producer of cocaine.
No less than the United States funded the “Plan Columbia” amounting to $1.3 billion to supposedly end the liberation movement in Colombia and for its government’s counter-narcotics operations. A news report published by Aljazeera estimated that about 5.7 million Colombians have been displaced due to conflict and has led to the killing of at least 215,000 people.
Apart from the casualties resulting from the Colombian government-led war on drugs, killings and violence were also attributed to an alleged internal strife among drug cartels themselves.
Still, experts agree that despite the so-called milestones and achievements in Colombia’s war on drugs, its government has failed to finally curb, if not at least put a dent, to the trade and use of illegal drugs. In a special report published by the United Kingdom-based The Guardian, Colombians decry the lack of government services, support, and presence, compelling them to turn to coca money to put food on the table and send children to school.
“The polls suggest that Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs is equally popular. But he will find that it is unwinnable. I also discovered that the human costs were enormous. We could not win the war on drugs through killing petty criminals and addicts. We started making positive impacts only when we changed tack, designating drugs as a social problem and not a military one,” he said.
As expected, however, these warnings fell on deaf ears.
President Duterte responded: We cannot, never be on the same mistake because I am not stupid; you are.”
Analysts attribute President Duterte’s victory in the 2016 presidential election to his tough-talking stance against the drug problem in the country.
“I’ll kill you,” Duterte would often warn those involved in illegal drug-use and peddling and petty crimes.
These threats continued even after he won the highest post in the land, which naturally translated into a policy – the infamous Oplan Tokhang. Then came the death toll. Human rights group estimated that there are about 12,000 killings due to Duterte’s war on drugs.
Currently, Colombia is revamping its policy on its war on drugs by focusing on addressing the roots of poverty that has long ensnared its people. Meanwhile, President Duterte has recently replaced the Philippine National Police as the lead agency on its war on drugs with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.
Killings, however, continue unabated.
As President Duterte remain firm in his police-led approach to ending the drug problem in the country, the human rights movement in the Philippines will continue to consolidate their ranks in a bid to stop the extrajudicial killings.