Philippines: Killings of 3 Teens Prompt ‘Rethinking’ of Strategies in Drug War

Felipe Villamor
170907_PH_drugs_1000.jpg A witness to the death of 17-year-old student Kian Delos Santos, allegedly killed by police during an anti-drug raid, takes an oath before speaking at a Senate hearing in Manila, Sept. 5, 2017.

The brutal deaths of three teens in the Philippines’ war on drugs has forced a “rethinking” of how the police have been enforcing the policy, President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman admitted Thursday.

The announcement, made by presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella, came a day after police announced that they had recovered the remains of a 14-year-old boy who had been reported missing for two weeks.

While Duterte was “entirely committed” to the drug war, he was however open to making some adjustments, Abella said.

“The manner in which these things are carried out needs to really be re-examined,” Abella told reporters.

He emphasized that the president had ordered a speedy investigation into the deaths, and had also met with victims’ families. These moves, he stressed, indicated that “the whole nation is in the process of rethinking the way we do things.”

“A major rethinking is going on,” Abella said, admitting for the first time that the murders were “not just one isolated event.”

Reynaldo de Guzman’s body was found dumped in a river in the northern Philippines, his face wrapped in packing tape and his body bearing multiple stab wounds.

The boy’s friend, Carl Arnaiz, 19, was found lifeless in Manila last week after police said they were forced to gun him down because he was allegedly robbing a taxicab.

Both boys, however, were not known to use drugs, with Arnaiz a student at the country’s main state university. They went missing after telling their relatives they were going out to buy food.

An autopsy revealed that Arnaiz was killed in a strikingly similar fashion as Kian Loyd delos Santos, 17, another teenager taken by police and shot at close range. Police also claimed he shot it out with them, but a closed-circuit television camera showed he was led away by two plainclothes policemen.

The deaths came in the middle of the police’s “one time, big time” anti-drug operations across Manila and several suburbs carried out last month.

An earlier raid in the south left 15 people dead, including a mayor on Duterte’s own list of 150 public officials, judges and members of the military and police forces allegedly involved with drugs.

The presidential palace was now “open to all significant and actually workable solutions” to investigate the deaths, Abella said, when asked if Duterte was willing to put up a special commission to investigate extrajudicial killings as a result of his drug war.

Abella, however, cautioned the public against speculating at this stage, noting that the cases “must be properly investigated.”

He said the government was assuring the public that there would be no whitewash.

Nightly police raids

Since Duterte came to power last year, more than 8,000 suspected drug dealers and addicts have been slain by police and by unknown vigilantes, who leave cardboard messages on the suspects claiming they were pushers or addicts.

The violence has come to define Duterte’s young government, and the president has appeared to relish the gore, observers and analysts say.

He has often cracked jokes in his speeches that the police should make sure that their enemies are shot dead rather than be shot themselves.

In March, New York-based Human Rights Watch said its own investigation had found that Philippine policemen had repeatedly “carried out extrajudicial killings of drug suspects, and then falsely claimed self-defense.”

“They plant guns, spent ammunition, and drug packets on their victims’ bodies to implicate them in drug activities,” HRW said in its report,

And in some cases HRW investigated, it found out that suspects already in custody were later found dead and classified by police as “found bodies” or “deaths under investigation.”

Duterte has ignored the HRW report, and praised police for the number of deaths last month.


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