MANILA, Philippines — The recent killings, in quick succession, of young men in what are widely believed to be police executions have underscored the need for the United Nations to investigate the war on drugs waged by President Rodrigo Duterte, a human rights watchdog said.
“While several dozen children under 18 have died in drug war-related killings since June 2016, circumstances suggest that the Philippine National Police deliberately targeted” Kian Lloyd delos Santos, 17, and Reynaldo de Guzman, 14.
Delos Santos was the senior high school student killed in what police claimed was a shootout during a dragnet in Caloocan City on August 16. But subsequent investigations tended to indicate he had been executed.
Two days after Delos Santos’ killing, De Guzman and his friend, Carl Angelo Arnaiz, 19, went missing from their Cainta, Rizal community.
Arnaiz’s bullet-riddled body would turn up 10 days later in Caloocan, where police claimed they shot him dead when he fought them after robbing a cab driver. On September 6, De Guzman’s corpse, head wrapped in masking tape and 30 stab wounds in the body, was found dumped in a creek in Gapan, Nueva Ecija.
The killings of the youth have intensified public anger and fear over Duterte’s war on drugs, which is estimated to have claimed more than 13,000 lives since he came to office last year.
“The apparent willingness of Philippine police to deliberately target children for execution marks an appalling new level of depravity in this so-called drug war,” Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
“These killings demonstrate that Duterte’s rejection of the rule of law has made all Filipinos potential ‘drug-war’ victims, no matter how young,” he added.
“A fundamental obligation of every government is to protect the lives of its children, not to empower police and their agents to murder them,” Kine said. “Until Duterte ends his abusive drug war and allows a UN-led international probe, child-killers among the police will continue to get away with murder,” Kine stressed.
Kine also noted that, despite the response of police and other agencies to the uproar over the Delos Santos and De Guzman killings, Duterte described the 14-year old’s killing as “sabotage” against authorities.
Quoting figures from the Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center, HRW said Delos Santos and De Guzman brought the number of children killed by police and unknown killers to 54 since July last year, most of them “shot while in the company of adults who were the apparent target of the shooting” and dismissed by both Duterte and Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II as “collateral damage.”
Kine also slammed plans for the mandatory drug testing of all college students and applicants, saying this would “effectively allow the police to extend their abusive anti-drug operations to college and university campuses, placing students at grave risk.”
“Concerted action by the UN Human Rights Council to address Duterte’s abusive drug war is crucial. The council should press the Philippines government to accept an independent international investigation into all allegations of extrajudicial killings and to hold those responsible to account,” KIne said.
“The council should also press the government to cooperate with the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, grant unfettered and unconditional access to the rapporteur, and immediately stop all official incitement and instigation of drug war killings,” he added.