MANILA: President Rodrigo Duterte’s war against drugs is already being felt across the country and he has barely stepped into office.
During his election campaign Duterte, who is known for his hardline stance against drugs, pledged to wipe out crime within six months of his administration and predicted that 100,000 wrongdoers would die when he orders a “shoot-to-kill” crackdown.
Since winning the presidential elections by a landslide, he has made public announcements that drug pushers will be killed, offering bounties, promising up to P3 million (US$64,000) for every “drug lord,” P2 million (US$42,584) for those deemed to be in charge of distribution, P1 million (US$21,292) for “syndicate members,” and P50,000 (US$1,064) for “ordinary” drug peddlers.
Duterte said he would not wait until his inauguration to begin handing out bounties stating that he had enough money left in his campaign funds to pay for “100 dead people.”
According to Sr. Supt. Manuel Cornel, Provincial Director of Nueva Ecija Police, a number of local government offices including Cabanatuan in Nueva Ecija are allocating a certain amount in their budget for bounty money. This should be ready by the last quarter of 2016.
Even before Duterte stepped into power, local government officials have been following his example. Tomas Osmena, the new leader of Cebu City, said that he will give officers the equivalent of US$1,000 - more than three times the basic pay for a patrol officer - for each wrongdoer killed “in the line of duty” and protect them from prosecution.
In Tanauan city, the newly-elected mayor is forcing suspected drug pushers to parade through the streets in a so-called “Walk of Shame” with signs on their chests stating “Ako’y Pusher, Huwag tularan” (I’m a drug pusher, Don’t be like me.)
The police have also been increasing their drug raids and racking up the number of drug suspect killings.
Between May 23 and 27: Police said 8 identified suspects died after 3 separate police raids in Manila, another near the capital, and the third in a small town in the northern Philippines.
May 26: Four suspected drug dealers were killed in General Santos City, South Cotabato. Two were gunned down in Davao City the same week.
Jun 19: Alleged 21-year-old drug dealers died in a buy-bust operation in Calamba City, Laguna. Six other suspected drug dealers were reportedly gunned down in a shootout with policemen in Rizal and Laguna.
Jun 21: 7 suspected drug pushers were killed in separate operations in Quezon City; Lagonoy, Camarines Sur; and in Morong and San Mateo, Rizal while another was killed during separate shootouts with the police in Bacoor City, General Trias City, and Rosario town in Cavite.
And the list goes on.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) has admitted that there has been an increase in the number of illegal drug suspects being killed in police operations since Duterte’s victory.
The wake of Renaldo Domingo who was killed in a police shoot out with 6 other suspected drug criminals. (Photo: Aya Lowe)
THE DAVAO EXAMPLE
Duterte’s proof of concept is Davao City located in the Southern island of Mindanao where he was once the long-serving mayor. His strict law and order policies earned him the nicknames "the Punisher" and “Duterte Harry”.
During his 22 year reign as mayor he turned the city from being one of the most dangerous in the country to one of its safest – for ‘law abiding citizens’.
However the transformation has come at a cost. Human rights groups have documented at least 1400 killings in Davao that they allege have been carried out by death squads between 1998 and 2008.
Most of those murdered were drug users, petty criminals and street children. Some were cases of mistaken identity.
INCREASED VIGILANTE KILLINGS
Duterte’s offering of a bounty has many human rights groups worried that it may usher in an era of extra judicial justice and an increase of vigilante groups or death squads.
Extra-judicial killings by soldiers, police, insurgents and vigilante groups are already among the Philippines' most significant human rights problems according to the US State Department’s annual global human rights report in 2015.
But there is already evidence of this increase.
On Jun 1, a body of a man was found in a garbage bag in southern Cebu. On him was a message: “Tulisan ko (I’m a robber), DU30.”
On May 19, vigilantes executed an alleged drug pusher in Bulacan province on the island of Luzon. According to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the vigilantes abducted Ramonito Nicolas Mendoza immediately following his court hearing on drug charges and release on bail.
Mendoza’s dead body, riddled with bullets, was later found with his hands and feet hogtied, his head wrapped with packaging tape and a sign on his neck stating “Huwag akong tularan. Drug Pusher Ako.” (Don’t be like me. I’m a drug pusher).
Karl - which is not his real name - has been working as a bounty hunter for 13 years. No one knows his real profession including his family. He has to keep it hidden in order to protect himself from those who would want to kill him in retaliation.
He comes from Davao and started only after he became a case of mistaken identity by other bounty hunters.
Karl’s boss works in the military and receives ‘assignments’ from families who feel they have been done an injustice. Traditionally the bounty money is raised by the family that has been affected or anti-criminal groups but this will soon change once Duterte offers bounties.
For small time criminals such as rapists, Karl is paid P50,000 while drug lords can command up to P170,000.
"There will be a lot of jobs like these because there will be more funds unlike before there were no funds. We were just depending on the victims' money but now because of the funding, I think, there will be a lot of vigilantes who will come up," said Karl.
A bounty hunter cleans his gun ahead of his next "job". (Photo: Aya Lowe)
"There are problems during operations like 'mistaken identity.' Because no one gives them (new vigilantes) information and no one confirms if this person is their subject. They do not go into details if this person is their (target). Sometimes, there are innocent people who were killed, too.
"We don't share information. There are a lot of people in our group but we do not know each other because it's not allowed. If there's a glitch (in the operation), my boss won't show up but he will send a 'support' like a lawyer or money for bail."
Bounty hunters are not new in the Philippines. A slow judicial system means people can wait for years before undergoing trial. The Philippines has the highest number of pre-trial and remand detainees in South East Asia.
According to Human Rights Watch, between 85 and 90 per cent of the more than 94,000 inmates in the penal system are still awaiting or undergoing trial. If criminals have money, they can easily get out on bail. Victims or families of victims tend to seek out quicker solutions to get criminals.
Surrendering drug pushers give their urine samples for drug tests. (Photo: Aya Lowe)
PRISON DRUG CARTELS
The Philippine expansive drug industry also extends to its prisons. A raid at the New Bilibid Prisons last year, one of the Philippines largest prison complexes, revealed that inmates were able to continue with their illegal activities despite incarceration and were living a luxurious lifestyle with gadgets, Jacuzzis, private gym and even a music room inside their cells.
High powered firearms and illegal drugs were seized from the prison. According to Duterte, 75 per cent of the illegal drugs sold in the Philippines were made in the National Bilibid Prisons.
In response to Duterte’s bounty offers, drug lords imprisoned in New Bilid Prisons have also put a bounty on his head. Incoming Philippine National Police (PNP) head, Chief Superintendent Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, revealed that drug lords, currently incarcerated at the prison are offering a bounty of P50-million (US$1,084,857) for the killing of President Duterte.
Surrendering drug pushers give their fingerprints. (Photo: Aya Lowe)
TURNING THEMSELVES IN
The effects of President Duterte’s war on drugs is already being felt. Fearing for their lives, small time drug dealers and users have been surrendering in the hundreds across the Philippines.
In a campaign intended to shame known drug dealers, local police have furnished all municipalities with a list of suspected drug users and pushers, warning them to stop illegal activities or face the consequence of their actions.
Outgoing President Benigno Aquino said on his visit to Balanga City in central Philippines, he saw residents, some of them carrying placards, gathered in front of the houses of 4 suspected big-time drug dealers in different villages. The residents demanded that the alleged drug dealers stop their illegal activities and surrender immediately.
Overwhelmed by the crowd, 3 of the suspects decided to surrender to police on the spot.
In Mandaue, central Philippines, the city’s most wanted drug suspect turned himself in. In South Cotabato, 23 suspected prohibited drug pushers, users and peddlers showed up at the police station and vowed to reform.
Over 700 suspected drug users and sellers surrendered themselves at Camp Karingal, north Manila. According to Sr. Supt. Joselito Esquivel those who surrendered would be given amnesty and assistance for rehabilitation. They also underwent a free drug test and were asked to sign a sworn statement, promising to stop their illegal activities.
VICTIMS OF THE CRACKDOWN
While there has been a big shift and crackdown seems to be working already there are also victims.
Marrites Carreon’s husband was killed in a shootout along with 6 other suspected members of a crime syndicate. She says the only way she learnt of her boyfriend’s death was when she was alerted to a news bulletin showing her husband being taken away with his hands on his head from the crime scene. In the next new report she saw the same crime scene but this time with her husband’s dead body shown behind the wheel of the car.
According to her, he was a driver using a rented car, which was involved in the shootout.
She was only able to find him after looking for him in all the police stations in the province the shootout took place. When she retrieved the body, no explanation, no autopsy was given and all his belongings were missing including the engagement ring he had bought for her.
While she is happy to hear about the ongoing war against drugs and think it is good for the country, she also feels she didn’t deserve to lose a partner in such a way - whether guilty or not.