Mother, Children Among 8 Killed in Drug-Related Violence in Philippines

Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales
170504-PH-drugwar-620.jpg Members of the Philippine Army patrol a remote area in Maguindanao in the southern Philippines, May 4, 2017.
Mark Navales/BenarNews

A mother and her two young children were among eight people killed in the Philippines this week during a bloody nationwide crackdown on drugs that has been criticized by human rights groups and is set to come under scrutiny at the United Nations.

On Tuesday, police backed by soldiers in the southern province of Maguindanao raided the home of a suspected local drug lord, identified as Willie Akil Utto, a member of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

BIFF members are ex-guerrillas of the 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country’s main Muslim separatist group that signed a peace pact with Manila three years ago in favor of limited autonomy in the southern Philippines.

The raiding team was about to enter the suspect’s hideout in the village of Panadtaban, about 1,600 km (1,000 miles) south of Manila, when they were fired upon by Utto’s men, who also lobbed a grenade, police said.

A woman identified as Minah Baluntintic and her two children, Hassan, 5, and Maharba, 3, were killed by the blast, which also injured two other children. The woman was near the area and was fleeing with her children when the violence broke out, police said.

A running gunbattle ensued during which one of Utto’s men was also slain, provincial police chief Senior Superintendent Agustin Tello told BenarNews on Thursday.

“The suspects later withdrew toward the town’s secluded area. The raiding team recovered assorted guns, mobile phones, drugs and four motorbikes at the hideout,” he said, adding that a manhunt had been launched.

Officials did not say how many men clashed with the soldiers and police officers.

Town Mayor Zamsamin Ampatuan said the slain woman and her children were buried Wednesday and local officials were helping two other wounded children.

“The situation is slowly getting back to normal. The slain woman and her kids have been buried,” he told BenarNews. “The security operation was terminated after the incident, but I would presume it will again resume. But we can’t say for now when and how.”

He said Utto is believed to have 40 men under his command, but his group is considered to be more of a criminal gang than militants waging a separatist cause.

“They are involved in cattle rustling and they also operate as guns for hire. They are known to control two villages,” he said.

Killings in Manila

Separately, in the capital Manila, four people were shot and killed Tuesday night by what police said were unknown vigilantes targeting drug addicts.

A gang of 10 armed men barged into the home of Anthony Zamora and shot him and his brother-in-law dead in front of his young children.

Zamora, 37, had earlier admitted he was a former drug user. He had come forward to avail of a financial package ostensibly offered by government’s social welfare department to former drug addicts who would voluntarily turn themselves in for rehabilitation.

Charles Tejoso, a village official, said Zamora was one of dozens who gave themselves up for rehabilitation.

Also on Tuesday, hooded men killed a 50-year-old man and his wife who were allegedly meth users near the Manila suburb of San Juan, police said.

This week’s deaths came as the chief of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency warned that the drug situation had gotten out of hand and should now be considered a “national security threat.”

Agency chief Isidro Lapeña said international drug rings were believed to be trafficking meth to the Philippines, where 4 million of the country’s 103 million people were drug addicts.

Police report that 2,692 suspects have been shot dead during anti-narcotics raids since June 2016. Officials were also investigating about 5,700 drug-related killings, many of them carried out by unknown vigilantes. Rights groups have said the killings were sanctioned by police, a claim that has been officially denied.

President Rodrigo Duterte had earlier promised a bloodbath to rid the Southeast Asian country of the drug menace. Since he stepped into office in July 2016, daily killings have become a staple of news.

Two former Duterte aides – a policeman and an uneducated self-confessed hitman – have come out in public to accuse the president of having a role in the killings. Both men subsequently filed a case against the Philippine leader at the International Criminal Court based in the Netherlands.

UN review

The fresh killings came days before the Philippines is to appear before the U.N. Human Rights Council to defend its anti-drug war.

The Philippines is among 14 countries whose records will be examined in the latest session of the Universal Periodic Review, which checks issues in all 193 U.N. member states.

Moves to restore the death penalty in the Philippines and the drug war are among the issues expected to be raised in Monday’s review, the foreign department said.

Menardo Guevarra, a senior Duterte aide, is leading the delegation backed by Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, a staunch Duterte supporter.

“The U.N. review of the Philippines is critical because of the sheer magnitude of the human rights calamity since President Duterte took office last year,” said Phelim Kine, Human Rights Watch deputy director for Asia.

He said the war on drugs “has been nothing less than a murderous war on the poor.”


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