“We don’t want to have a country where we are forced to live with fear…There is no justifiable reason for any forms of killings—may it be drug-related or political. We urge the president, let us end this.”
By GINO ESTELLA
MANILA – Hundreds of students spoke out against the rising number of killings, with the continuation of the counterinsurgency program Oplan Bayanihan, now coupled with President Duterte’s war on drugs.
Youth groups Anakbayan and League of Filipino Students (LFS) led simultaneous candle-lighting protests on August 11, at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman and Manila campuses, Polytechnic University of the Philippines in Sta. Mesa, Manila and the University of Sto. Tomas in España, Manila.
“We don’t want to have a country where we are forced to live with fear…There is no justifiable reason for any forms of killings—may it be drug-related or political. We urge the president, let us end this,” LFS national spokesperson JP Rosos said, at the gathering held amid heavy downpour in UP Diliman.
“President Duterte should understand that the youth and students are behind him in his crusade to annihilate drugs in the Philippines, but not the summary killings,” Rosos said.
The drug problem in the country stems from extreme poverty, Rosos said. The dire situation of the poor is being used by drug lords to lure them into having drugs.
The youth protesters also noted political killings perpetrated by suspected government soldiers and paramilitary group in the countryside. Rosos said military operations continue to threaten the lives of farmers and indigenous people, especially the Lumad in Mindanao.
In a statement, Anakbayan national chairperson Vencer Crisostomo said that they laud the new administration’s efforts “to crackdown on illegal drugs” in the country, but added that it can never be accomplished with “indiscriminate killings and repression.”
“Human rights have been sacrificed in the conduct of the anti-drug drive, with those holding the gun assuming the roles of both accusers and executioners,” Crisostomo said. He pointed out that right to life and due process should be respected. “It is impossible to ascertain innocence or guilt if the accused are simply shot on the spot.”
The groups reiterated their stand against the continuing counterinsurgency and Duterte’s loose pronouncements on imposing martial law. They cited the paramilitary attack in Bukidnon that killed a pregnant woman, and the bombing raids and food blockades in Marasugan, New Bataan, and Monkayo, in Compostela Valley.
“We light these candles as expression of the youth’s strongest condemnation against all the killings experienced by the Filipino people. This is not just for the victims of drug-related killings, but also to denounce the persistent killings of our Lumad brothers and sisters,” said Kevin Castro, National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) spokesperson.
Anakbayan also denounced the “double standard in the treatment of suspected petty criminals who are shot in plain sight, while drug lords and protectors with wealth and influence are exempted from the blood bath and given lenient deadlines by the police for their surrender.”
They also said that Duterte’s statements on giving promotion and assistance to police men charged with human rights violations encourage killings, abuse, and promotes culture of impunity.
“The Duterte regime’s war on drugs is bound to fail if it continues to rely on extrajudicial killings led by a corrupt and abusive police and military hierarchy,” Crisostomo said. Like the armed conflict, the illegal drug trade is rooted in worsening poverty, joblessness, and extreme hunger.
“The only way to rid the country of illegal drugs is by pushing deeper social change that involves genuine land reform, national industrialization, meaningful wage increases, scrapping of contractualization, and the provision of accessible education, healthcare, and other social services,” Crisostomo said. (With reports from Anne Marxze D. Umil)