Usually on opposing sides, supporters and critics of President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs have joined the chorus of condemnation over the killing of 17-year-old Kian Loyd Delos Santos and called for an investigation of police abuse that has resulted in “unnecessary deaths” in the anti-narcotics campaign.
As rain poured on Barangay 160, Caloocan City on Aug. 21, groups led by ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio and BAYAN Secretary General Renato Reyes condemned during a candle-lighting ceremony the killing by police of the Grade 11 student.
“Kami po ay napadaan upang magpaabot ng pakikiisa sa dalamhati, sa galit doon sa pagkamatay ng isa nating kababayan (We are here to offer condolences and express anger over the death of our fellow Filipino),” Reyes told the crowd at the boy’s wake.
Not too far from the wake, the crowd cried, “Justice for Kian, justice for all,” as they filled the makeshift basketball court where footage from a closed-circuit television (CCTV) showed two policemen dragging the teenager to a corner.
Joining the protest were actors Mae Paner, Sebastian Castro and Audie Gemora, who said, “‘Pag nakikita natin ang ganitong klaseng injustice, kailangan malagyan namin ng boses, mabigyang buhay sa entablado, para malaman ng lahat (When we see this kind of injustice, we should raise our voices, give life on stage, so everyone would know).”
Flash floods prevented other groups from joining the protest at the crime scene as planned, but in other parts of the capital, the Liberal Party youth group and some 1,000 individuals from different sectors held two separate demonstrations condemning the murder of Delos Santos and demanding an end to the drug-related killings.
The death of the 17-year-old student, a known Duterte supporter, has sparked unprecedented public outrage and widespread condemnation even from the Catholic Church and Duterte’s allies in the Senate, who have called for an inquiry into the anti-illegal drugs campaign. In the latest surge over the past several days, Reuters reported that as many as 90 people were killed in police operations.
People began to express anger over Delos Santos’ death after a CCTV footage and a handful of witness accounts disputed the police report that the teenager was carrying a gun and resisting arrest when he was shot on the night of Aug.16.
The footage showed the victim wearing a shirt and boxer shorts being dragged by plain-clothes police, who accused him of being a “drug runner.”
Autopsy disputes police version
An autopsy report released on Aug. 21 said Delos Santos was shot on the back and on the head, and the gunshot wounds indicated he was lying on the ground when shot by someone standing above him.
“There’s no evidence that would back up (the claim) that he fought back. He was lying face down, his shooter standing above him,” medico-legal officer Erwin Erfe from the Public Attorney’s Office said, according to a report from the Inquirer.
The teenager’s family, several neighbors and schoolmates at the Our Lady of Lourdes College vehemently denied Delos Santos was ever involved in the illegal drug trade.
The Department of Education also joined the call for an inquiry into the killing of Delos Santos while denouncing “all forms of violence against our students, teachers and personnel.”
“While we acknowledge that law enforcement is an important aspect in the government’s comprehensive efforts to battle illegal drugs, ensuring accuracy of information and upholding the rule of law should not be compromised,” a statement said.
Amid claims he himself uses drugs, the victim’s father Saldy delos Santos said, “Willing naman ako magpa-drug test (I’m willing to be tested). Baka iyong mga pulis na iyan ang adik. Common sense na lang, pulis ka, dadamputin mo walang kamuwang-muwang (Maybe they’re the ones who are addicts. It’s common sense, you’re a policeman, yet you would abduct an innocent minor)?”
Sen. Bam Aquino in a private talk with the victim’s family also on Aug. 21, commended them for speaking up and promised them protection and assistance.
“Dapat lang Sir matapang, kasi aping-api na kami (We should be brave, Sir, for we have long been abused),” Lucy Delos Santos, the victim’s aunt, told the senator.
Aquino described as preposterous the Aug. 18 comment from the Palace that the case of Delos Santos was an isolated one. “Hindi ko alam kung sino ang mag-aaccept noon sa totoo lang (I don’t know who would ever accept that, to be honest),” said Aquino, the third member of the Liberal Party to go to the student’s wake following the earlier visits of Sen. Risa Hontiveros and Vice President Leni Robredo.
The Senate will conduct an inquiry into the killing on Aug. 24 and Aquino said this particular case should be seen as one of several thousand other deaths in the war on drugs.
In a three-page resolution, the Senate condemned and vowed to conduct an inquiry into police abuses that have resulted “in unnecessary deaths.” Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, a Duterte ally, earlier said he would look into the anti-illegal drug campaign ‘Oplan Double Barrel.’
Another ally, Sen. Sonny Angara called the recent rise in killings “quite alarming especially the reported killing of a 17 year old who had no involvement in drugs whatsoever.” Other senators took to Twitter to express concern over the drug war. Party-list Rep. Harry Roque was also at the wake.
In a media briefing on the evening of Aug. 21, Pres. Duterte said he will not visit the wake so as not to influence the investigations being conducted, but added that police found liable will be brought to justice.
The Philippine National Police, the National Bureau of Investigations and the Human Rights Commission are conducting separate investigations.
Sustaining the protests
Before Duterte’s statement on the killing, human rights lawyer Neri Colmenares, who also visited the wake, said it remains to be seen if this outpouring of anger would be sustained.
“Pwede naman i-sacrifice ang tatlong pulis, i-convict sila (They can sacrifice the three policemen), maybe it will quell the outrage,” Colmenares said. “But whether or not this outrage leads to something, it’s still part of the movement of the people.”
A jailed activist during the martial law years, he said the war on drugs, which took a leaf from the Marcosian era, was doomed to fail. The solution lies in economic development that would help the poor, he added.
For her part, Mae Paner, also known as Juana Change, was surprised Kian Delos Santos’ death caused mass outrage. “Every day may biktima, pero kay Kian, kumapit (There’s a victim every day, but Kian’s case stuck),” she told VERA Files, adding the story of the student, whose mother was an overseas worker, has perhaps helped in “awakening the people.”
Sustaining the protests will be hard, but she added, “Merong magising o wala, may mga taong gising na hindi na maaawat, tuloy-tuloy lang yan, hindi na yan magbabago sa paglaban (There are people who have long been awake, and will not wane in their struggle).”
Colmenares added: “Ang dapat isipin, kikilos tayo, ano man kahinatnan, dahil tama ito. Whether marami o kaunti kayo, kailangan lang ituloy ang laban (Whether this will lead to something, we should act, because this is right. Many or few, we should continue our fight).”