Home News Years later, Philippines reflects on Duterte’s brutal war on drugs

Years later, Philippines reflects on Duterte’s brutal war on drugs


In the months since Rodrigo Duterte’s presidential campaign eight years ago, he vowed to order the police and military to find and kill drug users and dealers, promising that such killings would go unpunished, police and vigilantes have ruthlessly gunned down tens of thousands of people in summary executions.

Even now, two years after Duterte left office, there has been little legal reckoning on the issue. Killing Wave: only Eight police officers While human rights groups say such killings have declined since Duterte left office, and far fewer cases have involved government agents, a culture of violence and impunity remains troubling in the Philippines.

The legacy of Mr. Duterte’s so-called war on drugs has slowly begun to receive more official attention in recent months, with lawmakers holding several public hearings on the violence. Senior police officers and victims’ families have spoken at congressional hearings, recounting the horrors and pleading again for justice.

When Duterte left office, his government said 6,252 people had been killed by security forces — whom officials called “drug suspects.” Human rights groups put the total death toll at around 30,000.

It is unlikely that Duterte will face any punishment as a result of the congressional hearings; this week, he was asked to testify before the committee, but a spokesman declined, citing his constitutional right not to incriminate himself. This has led many to look overseas, to the International Criminal Court, which is investigating the drug war and is expected to take some action against Duterte soon.

Remi Bayunong’s 7-year-old son, Jefferson, was shot and killed in Caloocan City in April 2019. Ms. Bayunong said he witnessed a killing near their home. She sued the police but said she did not attend the court hearing after being threatened by a group of officers.

Ms. Bayonong had a simple message for the Philippine authorities: “I call on you to cooperate with the International Criminal Court because it is our only chance to get justice,” she said.

While Duterte bears full responsibility for the war on drugs, he has insisted he will never be tried by an international court. He once said there are 3 million drug addicts in the Philippines, adding: “I would love to slaughter them.”

He ordered the Philippines to withdraw from the ICC six years ago, but the ICC has refused to comment on its investigation into Duterte. It is unclear whether the Philippine government will force Duterte to surrender if he faces an arrest warrant from the ICC, which cannot try defendants in absentia.

Mr. Duterte’s successor, President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., appeared at times to renege on earlier promises to shield Mr. Duterte from international investigations. In December, the Marcos administration allowed International Criminal Court officials investigating Mr. Duterte to enter the Philippines to do their work, according to an official familiar with the process.

Cases the ICC is expected to follow include another complaint against police in Caloocan City, north of Manila. In 2016, less than three months after Duterte took office, a group of police officers broke into Mary Ann Domingo’s small apartment and kicked out most of her family.

The last time she saw her husband, Luis Bonifacio, alive, he was on his knees with his arms raised. Her 19-year-old son, Gabriel, who had stayed inside to plead for his father, was also shot. Later, Ms. Domingo saw their bodies at the hospital.

She has been complaining about the officials to the National Ombudsman since 2017.

On June 18, a judge found four police officers involved in the operation guilty of murder.

The court noted the findings of forensic pathologist Dr. Raquel Fortun, who examined the Bonifacios’ bodies and told the court she found multiple gunshot wounds.

Ms. Domingo cried on her son’s shoulder as the verdict was read. Standing beside her were four police officers, who looked down at the floor.

“I am grateful to the judge because I feel that justice is finally being served,” Ms. Domingo said after the ruling. But she added: “The ICC is still necessary because we need justice for every victim of the war on drugs.”

The relationship between Duterte and Marcos is strained. The current president came to power after forming an alliance with Duterte’s daughter, Sara Duterte. But a few months later, things changed. This month, Duterte resigned as education secretary in the Marcos cabinet. The Dutertes claimed without evidence that Marcos and his allies wanted the president to extend his power by amending the constitution. The two accused each other of their remarks. Use of drugs.

Duterte has burnished his reputation as a law-and-order figure while mayor of Davao City, a southern city where hundreds of people are believed to have been killed by gunmen linked to the regime and whose actions are also being investigated by the International Criminal Court.

Days after Duterte took office, people like freelance photographer Vincent Go noticed a change. Working the night shift in the Manila area, Go was notified of 10 to 20 crime scenes each night, with the number of violent incidents increasing dramatically. The scenes Go saw were always the same: dead ends, often without security cameras or witnesses. Rusty guns were often placed next to bodies.

The government’s narrative in such cases is almost always the same: Facing arrest, the drug suspect fought back and the police had to shoot in self-defense.

Go, who has documented more than 900 crime scenes during Duterte’s presidency, shared photos of bodies with handcuff marks and multiple gunshot wounds. Pointing to one of the bodies, he said: “He was shot five times in the head.”

“How could a person who fought back be shot five times in the head?” Mr. Ge asked.

Dr. Forton, who has examined 109 bodies exhumed at the request of Catholic priest Flaviano Villanueva and the victims’ families, said she saw multiple gunshot wounds to the head and torso.

“In other words, they were shot,” said Dr. Forton, the only Philippine pathologist who has examined the remains of victims of the drug war.

Tens of thousands of people were arrested on drug charges during Duterte’s campaign. He has pledged to go after drug lords and other high-level dealers. But rights groups say many of the dead are poor and working-class men and boys.

The Duterte camp has reiterated that the ICC has no jurisdiction over the Philippines because prosecutors launched their investigation only after Duterte withdrew from the treaty that established the court in 2019. Marcos’s views are unclear: In November, he said he was considering rejoining the court, but in March he reiterated that the ICC had already withdrawn. No jurisdiction In his country.

“The remedy for the alleged victims is to file a lawsuit in the Philippine courts,” said Harry Roque, Duterte’s former spokesman.

On a recent Thursday, Dr. Forton tried to piece together what might have happened to Jay-Ar Jumola, a 21-year-old construction worker who was killed by unidentified men in an alley in Navotas City in June 2019.

“That was most likely the entry wound,” she said, pointing to a hole in Jumora’s skull. “The other thing that caught my eye was this stain, a green stain on the inner surface of the skull. That suggests some kind of metal has oxidized.”

Mr. Go, a photographer, reported on Mr. Jumola’s death and found a witness who told him that Mr. Jumola was kneeling on the ground when he was shot.

“He saw the blood gushing out and how Jaar begged for his life,” Mr. Go said. “But the police ignored him and shot him dead.”

Jumora’s two half brothers suffered a similar fate. In February 2017, Anthony Ocdin, 23, was also killed by unidentified men in Navotas. He was found with duct tape wrapped around his head and a sign on his body that read “Don’t be like me, I’m a drug dealer.” Nearly five years later, Angelo Ocdin, 28, was shot in the back by four men in the Eastern Metro area of ​​Manila.

Ms Jumola said she now worried about her surviving children.

“We want him to be put in jail because he ordered the killing of innocent people,” she said of Duterte.

Maryse Simmons Reporting from Paris also contributed.

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