Majority of Filipinos Doubt Police Claims in Drug War Killings: Poll

Felipe Villamor
170927-PH-killings-620.jpg The bodies of slain suspected drug dealers lie on a street during a police anti-narcotics operation in Manila, Aug. 17, 2017.

A majority of Filipinos believes that fellow citizens slain by the authorities in the Duterte administration’s crackdown on illegal drugs did not fight back, contrary to police claims that suspects had violently resisted arrest, a survey released Wednesday said.

Fifty-four percent of respondents said they agreed that “many of those killed by the police in the anti-drug campaign did not really fight against the police,” according to the survey by Social Weather Stations, a respected Philippine pollster. Twenty percent of those surveyed in the nationwide poll, conducted June 23-26, said they disagreed with this statement and 25 percent were undecided.

“Fight back,” which translates into Tagalog as “nanlaban,” has been a common answer by police officers in cases of questionable deaths of drug suspects, including the recent separate killings of three teenagers who were picked up by officers and turned up dead.

One of them was 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos, who was caught on a closed-circuit television camera being led away by two officers minutes before he was found slumped and lifeless, contrary to official statements by police that he had fought it out.

A second boy, Carl Arnaiz, allegedly held up a taxi and fought with responding officers, but his relatives said he had only gone out to buy food with a 14-year-old friend, whose body was later found with stab wounds north of Manila.

Their killings were part of a police anti-drug operation in Manila, which President Rodrigo Duterte had earlier praised. But the fallout from the deaths led to a massive protest against the president’s anti-drug war, which, so far, has left thousands dead since he stepped into office last year.

Many of those surveyed also expressed “incredulity” over the “nanlaban” reasoning, with about 63 percent saying they believed that those killed did not really fight back.

“The very poor are more likely than the wealthy to disbelieve the ‘nanlaban’ reason for killings attributed to the police,” the survey said, adding that nearly half of those polled also believed that the slain people were “not really drug pushers.”

The poll was carried out independently in the second quarter of the year, using interviews with a nationally representative base of 1,200 respondents.

Not surprising

New York-based Human Rights Watch said Wednesday it was not surprised by the findings, saying there was a “critical mass of compelling evidence” that pointed to local police carrying out an “unlawful killing campaign.”

The global rights watchdog said it had also documented cases based on eyewitness accounts that contradicted claims by the police that thousands of victims of the drug war – including women and children – were all shot dead because they “fought back.”

Its own research “clearly shows the intent of police and their agents to summarily execute the victims,” HRW said.

“What’s needed now is for concerned Filipinos to add their voices in support of Human Rights Watch’s call for a United Nations-led investigation into the ‘drug war’ as a means to end the slaughter and provide accountability for the victims,” said Phelim Kine, HRW’s deputy Asia director.

Duterte’s son implicated

Duterte however has rejected calls for a U.N. investigation. On Tuesday, he said critics of the drug war could “go to hell.”

“We have become a narco-state long ago,” the president said, claiming that 40 percent of all elected village chiefs in the country were in the pocket of drug lords.

Ironically, Duterte’s eldest son, Paulo Duterte, was recently accused of protecting drug shipments through the customs bureau.

An opposition senator, Antonio Trillanes, named him as a member of the Chinese triad behind the shipments of methamphetamines in the Philippines, a claim that Paulo Duterte has denied. A former police officer who claimed to be a hitman for Rodrigo Duterte in the southern city of Davao has also alleged that the son had facilitated the entry of past drug shipments.

Duterte has said he would quit as president if the allegations were proven, but he has been quiet about the drug shipment that recently entered through customs.

The president also keeps a list of 150 policemen, military personnel, public officials and judges that he frequently waves during public gatherings. Three mayors on that list were killed by the police, allegedly after they fought back during drug raids.

Calls for inquiry

The publication of the survey’s results prompted congressional calls for an investigation, in aid of legislation into the reported deaths.

“The results of this survey are important,” said House of Representatives member Antonio Tinio.

“For it shows that a majority of Filipinos do not believe the story that those killed resisted arrest.”

Allies in the Duterte-controlled Senate on Wednesday also filed a resolution that condemned extra-judicial killings, and called on the government to stop these acts.

“The Senate is against the violent death of every Filipino, and will seek justice for its victims,” Senate President Aquilino Pimentel said.

As of June this year, there were a total of 12,833 homicide cases, according to official government figures. Nearly 3,000 of these were drug related killings, and 8,200 were “deaths under investigation.”

“The Philippines is a civilized democratic society that will not tolerate unresolved killings. The police must do its job and solve these crimes,” Pimentel said.


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