Drug killings leave agony and savage facet of Duterte’s legacy

By JIM GOMEZ
Associated press

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — When Emily Soriano recounts how her 15-year-old son was gunned down along with four friends and two other residents while partying in a Filipino slum six years ago, she cries with grief and grief. angry as if the massacre had happened yesterday.

Police concluded at the time that the bloodbath in a riverside slum in the city of Caloocan in metro Manila was sparked by a drug gang war. But Soriano angrily blamed four plainclothes police and incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal drug crackdown for the 2016 killings.

“He did not lead the country like a father. He has become a monster. His character and the fury on his face is frightening,” Soriano said of Duterte in an interview with The Associated Press.

The thousands of murders in Duterte’s brutal campaign against illegal drugs – unprecedented in its scale and lethality in recent Philippine history and the alarm it has sparked around the world – leave families dying, an investigation by the International Criminal Court and a wild side of Duterte. legacy as his turbulent six-year presidency comes to an end on Thursday.

One of Asia’s most unorthodox contemporary leaders, Duterte, now 77 and in frail health, is ending more than three decades in the country’s often rowdy politics, where he made a name for himself. politician for his outbursts of swearing and his contempt for human rights. and the West while reaching out to China and Russia.

Activists considered him “a human rights calamity” not only for the many deaths from his so-called war on drugs, but also for his brazen attacks on the critical media, the mainstream Catholic Church and the opposition. An opposition senator and one of her fiercest critics, Leila de Lima, has been locked up in high-security detention for five years on drug charges she says were fabricated to muzzle and threaten her other reviews.

His decision – just months after he assumed the presidency in 2016 – to allow the burial of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the Nation’s Heroes Cemetery has given a major boost to the Marcos’ efforts to make the family name shine.

The dictator’s namesake son won last month’s presidential election with a landslide victory. Marcos Jr. takes over from Duterte on Thursday and will rule alongside Duterte’s daughter, Sara, who also won the vice presidency by a huge margin.

Duterte himself remained popular based on independent investigations despite the drug campaign’s deaths and shortcomings, which endeared him to many poor Filipinos. His aides often cited his high popularity rating to deal with criticism and opposition.

The state-run television network aired documentaries about Duterte’s legacy, mostly highlighting his administration’s infrastructure and pro-poor projects. At a thanksgiving rally in Manila over the weekend, his supporters waved Filipino flags and cheered him on as he gave in to sing a song with an orchestra and popular singers supporting him.

In the dark misery of Soriano’s cabin, however, an air of outrage and mourning still pervades. One wall is full of cluttered photographs of Angelito, her murdered son, as well as portraits and a statue of the Virgin Mary and a small card that reads: “End impunity!”

Soriano has pleaded with the ICC to resume an investigation into the drug campaign deaths that was suspended in November at the request of the Philippine government. She said she was ready to testify before the international tribunal.

“When my son was buried, I promised to give him justice,” Soriano said.

The ICC has opened an investigation into drug-related killings from November 1, 2011, when Duterte was still mayor of the southern city of Davao, to March 16, 2019, as a possible crime against humanity.

Duterte won the presidency in mid-2016 on a bold but failed promise to eradicate the threat of illegal drugs and corruption in three to six months.

The ICC, headquartered in The Hague, is a court of last resort for crimes that countries are unwilling or unable to prosecute. So far, only one murder case against three police officers accused of fatally shooting a teenager linked to illegal drugs has resulted in a conviction and Duterte’s opponents have cited it to highlight the difficulty of prosecuting ISIS forces. order and possibly Duterte for extrajudicial executions.

A drug suspect, who was shot and left for dead by police but surprisingly survived violence in Metro Manila in 2016, said he still feared for his life and asked that his real name not be released. not be used by journalists for security reasons, but added that he would also be willing to testify before the ICC if his investigation led to a trial.

Asked to comment on Duterte’s legacy, he shook his head but expressed hope that he and other victims would get justice and possible state reparations.

“I still have a phobia,” he told AP, but added that with Duterte coming out “it’s eased a bit.”

More than 6,250 mostly impoverished drug suspects have been killed in Duterte’s crackdown based on a government tally since he expanded the campaign nationwide after becoming president in 2016.

Human rights defenders have reported a much higher death toll. They added that in his two-decade crackdown on crimes in the southern city of Davao, where he served as mayor, vice mayor and congressman from 1988, more than 1,000 people had been killed. .

However, Arturo Lascanas, a retired police officer who served under Duterte for many years in a heinous crime unit in Davao, said up to 10,000 suspects may have been killed in the sprawling city. port on the orders of Duterte and the main collaborators of the former mayor. .

Duterte has denied authorizing extrajudicial executions in Davao or anywhere else in the country, but has long openly threatened drug suspects with death and ordered law enforcement to shoot suspects, who threatened them with harm.

“All you drug addicts, sons of bitches, I’m really going to kill you,” Duterte told a huge crowd during a 2016 presidential campaign outing in Manila’s Tondo slum area. “I have no patience, I have no middle ground, either you kill me or I kill you fools.”

Lascanas, 61, said he was also ready to testify in a possible ICC trial and provide crucial evidence that could prove that Duterte ordered and financed numerous killings and kidnappings in Davao.

“The No. 1 physical evidence is myself,” Lascanas, who has been in hiding outside the Philippines, told AP in a video interview.

“Duterte must have his day in court to deal with the consequences of his insanity because this is a very dangerous precedent for the next generation of public officials in the country and probably for all of humanity,” he said. he declared.

Lascanas provided details of numerous alleged murders in a 186-page affidavit and in testimony he gave to the Senate before he left the Philippines in 2017.

A Catholic missionary priest, Flavie Villanueva, said the widespread killings had left many orphans, deprived already poor families of breadwinners and sparked other complex issues that Duterte was leaving behind.

Villanueva runs a religious center in Manila that provides food, shelter, livelihood training and funeral assistance to more than 270 families of slain victims. He said this is just a tiny fraction of the many families devastated by the violence of the campaign against drugs in a largely unnoticed humanitarian crisis sparked by the killings.

Another tragic consequence of Duterte’s populist and coercive style is the blurring of the line between good and evil that has sparked arguments among people and even within the church, Villanueva said, adding that he often asks to Duterte’s apologists: “Are we reading the same Bible?”

On Duterte’s departure, Villanueva said: “We are not just broken and hurt. We are even divided as a church and as a people.

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Associated Press reporters Joeal Calupitan and Aaron Favila contributed to this report.