The cold-blooded murder of 17-year-old senior high school student, Kian Loyd delos Santos, by Caloocan police, in what President Rodrigo Roa Duterte loudly proclaims as his administration’s unrelenting “war on drugs,” has unleashed a firestorm of protest.
No, Justice Secretary Aguirre, people are not buying your line that Kian’s killing is an “isolated case” that has been “overblown” by the mass media. Coming on the heels of a spate of killings (74 in just 3 days) in “one time, big time” police operations in the slum areas of Bulacan and Manila, Kian’s death is only unique in that CCTV footage and eyewitnesses point unerringly to his merciless beating and execution by policemen in plainclothes.
Neither are they buying the incredible story dished out by the police, without an iota of evidence except their say so, that Kian was a drug courier for his father and uncle. After the fact of his killing in the hands of the police, an alleged drug pusher who claims to have had dealings with Kian is trotted out together with allegations of nonspecific incriminating evidence police investigators discovered, again incredibly, in social media.
Authorities cannot even claim Kian to be the unfortunate but inevitable “collateral damage” of their determined efforts to stamp out the illicit drug trade. Unlike scores of other minors mowed down in Oplan Tokhang and its reinvigorated version, Oplan Double Barrel, who supposedly died in the cross fire, Kian was fatally shot twice in the head, at close range, while prostrate or kneeling, according to official forensic findings.
Yes, oh yes, President Duterte, this one is on you. You egged your police (actually, even your military, but they are too busy with counter-terrorism cum counter-insurgency operations) to “kill, kill, kill” as your administration kept missing your self-imposed deadline for eradicating the drug problem in three months, then six months, and now you admit, maybe not even till the end of your six-year term of office. (Was it just another foot-in-mouth gaffe or were you dead serious when you lauded the Bulacan police for killing 32 drug suspects in 24 hours and called for such a “fine” example to be emulated by the rest of your police forces.)
The more the police killed those who they claim to be in some “drug watch list,” Duterte could unabashedly claim progress, if not success, in his brutal “war on drugs.”
But in light of international criticism of the mounting body count, the police have whittled the official number of police kills down to around 2500, with a similar number being “deaths under investigation” (police speak for killings attributed to vigilantes and/or drug gang rivalry). Nonetheless, mass media and other independent tallies have the running total anywhere between 7000 to more than 10,000.
A system of quotas and rewards for eliminating small-time drug addicts and pushers apparently is in place thus the propensity for periodic raids on urban poor communities to flush them out or to out rightly kill suspects without affording them any kind of due process.
Duterte provided the perfect alibi: the police have the right to employ lethal force in self-defense should a suspect resist arrest or is armed and dangerous. The police picked up the cue from their Commander-in-Chief and so invariably, suspects are reportedly killed in a gun battle with the police, the former initiating the encounter by firing a gun. The police in turn are such sharpshooters no matter the lighting or spatial conditions that suspects always get fatally shot. Or if they are brought into custody alive, they invariably try to grab a police escort’s gun and end up getting killed.
Duterte then promised that with this role play of the police “merely doing their job,” he would protect them from legal prosecution and if convicted, he would pardon them. Such presidential cloak of impunity was proven in the case of Superintendent Marvin Marcos, head of the raiding team that killed alleged drug lord Mayor Rolando Espinosa while in jail. Marcos was reinstated upon Duterte’s direct order to PNP Chief Dela Rosa.
This impunity apparently is also operative in the case of the slaughter by police of the notorious Mayor Parojinog and 14 others, in a shadowy operation to serve a search warrant on a “narcopolitician.” There has been no serious investigation on this case and Chief Inspector Jovie Espenido who led the assault team will likely get a promotion in short order. (He already enjoyed being lionized in the media as someone who got some big fish in the anti-drug war.)
Duterte has been encouraged by the seeming general public approval, if not praise, for his actions. He hit on a nerve — society’s fear of heinous crimes being committed by shabu-crazed addicts or even just neighborhood addicts cum toughies lording it over their unpoliced communities. He had promised to end it swiftly, if brutally.
But only the bad guys were supposed to bear the full brunt of the Duterte regime’s “war on drugs” and maybe an acceptable number of “collateral damage.” And even if disturbing evidence of the extrajudicial killings were splashed on television screens, the front page of newspapers and the internet, the public was lulled into thinking that the victims were society’s dregs and were thus dispensable.
Until the killing of Kian Loyd delos Santos.
A teenager who had dreams of being a policeman someday. The eldest child of an OFW mother slaving away in Saudi Arabia to support her children and a father tending a small sari-sari store to make ends meet. A grade 11 student who begged the plainclothes policemen who were beating him up to please stop as he had an examination the following day. An ordinary fellow with no record and no reputation in the neighborhood of being involved with illegal drugs in any way. A right-handed person who supposedly shot at the police with his left hand. Whose ordeal was caught on CCTV and seen by several witnesses.
Thus he became Everyman — any poor but struggling parents’ son — minding his own business yet finding himself in the crosshairs of the Duterte regime’s “war on drugs.” This is exemplified in the social media post #IAmKian.
All of a sudden there is widespread outrage and dismay. Kian’s murder has unlocked the Pandora’s box of official deception about the effectiveness of the “war on drugs” and of the official cover-up of the horrible crimes being committed in its name.
The public outcry is simple and straightforward: Stop the killings! Justice for Kian, justice for all! To achieve these demands there is the urgent need to expose the mastermind and make him ultimately accountable.
Carol Pagaduan-Araullo is a medical doctor by training, social activist by choice, columnist by accident, happy partner to a liberated spouse and proud mother of two.
Published in Business World
Aug. 28, 2017