Pubdate: Wed, 03 Aug 2016
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2016 The New York Times Company
Author: Jason Gutierrez


MANILA - Since Rodrigo Duterte became president of the Philippines 
just over a month ago, promising to get tough on crime by having the 
police and the military kill drug suspects, 420 people have been 
killed in the campaign, according to tallies of police reports by the 
local news media.

Most were killed in confrontations with the police, while 154 were 
killed by unidentified vigilantes. This has prompted 114,833 people 
to turn themselves in, as either drug addicts or dealers, since Mr. 
Duterte took office, according to national police logs.

Addressing Congress last week in his first State of the Nation 
address, Mr. Duterte reiterated his take-no-prisoners approach, 
ordering the police to "triple" their efforts against crime.

"We will not stop until the last drug lord, the last financier and 
the last pusher have surrendered or been put behind bars or below the 
ground, if they so wish," he said.

But human rights groups, Roman Catholic activists and the families of 
many of those killed during the crackdown say that the vast majority 
were poor Filipinos, many of whom had nothing to do with the drug 
trade. They were not accorded an accusation and a trial, but were 
simply shot down in the streets, the critics say.

"These are not the wealthy and powerful drug lords who actually have 
meaningful control over supply of drugs on the streets in the 
Philippines," said Phelim Kine, a deputy director of Human Rights 
Watch in Asia.

Critics of the president's campaign have rallied around the case of 
Michael Siaron, a 29-year-old rickshaw driver in Manila, who was shot 
one night by unidentified gunmen as he pedaled his vehicle in search 
of a passenger. When his wife rushed to the scene, a photographer 
took a picture of her cradling his body in the street, and the 
photograph quickly gained wide attention.

Scribbled in block letters on a cardboard sign left near his body was 
the word "pusher." His family members insist that he was not involved 
in the drug trade, though they said he sometimes used meth.

Indirectly acknowledging criticism that his policies trample over the 
standard judicial process, Mr. Duterte said that human rights "cannot 
be used as a shield to destroy the country."

He has called for drug users and sellers to turn themselves in or 
risk being hunted down, a threat backed up by the bodies piling up 
near daily on the streets of Philippine cities.

The approach appears to be driving down crime: The police say that 
they have arrested more than 2,700 people on charges related to using 
or selling illegal drugs, and that crime nationwide has fallen 13 
percent since the election, to 46,600 reported crimes in June, from 
52,950 in May.

Mr. Duterte's crackdown has been hugely popular. Filipinos, pummeled 
by years of violent crime and corrupt, ineffective law enforcement, 
handed him an overwhelming victory in the May presidential election, 
and have largely embraced his approach.

A national opinion poll conducted after his election and just before 
he took office found that 84 percent of Filipinos had "much trust" in him.

The model for Mr. Duterte's policies is Davao City, where he was 
mayor for most of the past 20 years. Draconian laws there, including 
a strict curfew and a smoking ban as well as a zero-tolerance 
approach to drug users and sellers, have been credited with turning 
the city into an oasis of safety in a region plagued by violence.

The dark side of that approach was that more than 1,000 people were 
killed by government-sanctioned death squads during his 
administration, according to several independent investigations.

Mr. Duterte has denied having direct knowledge of death squads, but 
he has long called for addressing crime by killing suspects, whom he 
calls criminals and has referred to as "a legitimate target of assassination."

He has repeatedly said that those hooked on meth, the most popular 
drug here, were beyond saving or rehabilitation.

He ran for president largely on the pledge of applying the same 
policies nationwide, promising to kill 100,000 criminals in his first 
six months in office. While the number may have been typical Duterte 
bravado, the threat of mass killing appears to have been real.

On Tuesday, the International Drug Policy Consortium, a network of 
nongovernmental organizations, issued a letter urging the United 
Nations drug control agencies "to demand an end to the atrocities 
currently taking place in the Philippines" and to state unequivocally 
that extrajudicial killings "do not constitute acceptable drug 
control measures."

Ramon Casiple, a political analyst at the Institute for Political and 
Electoral Reform, said that he shared those concerns but that it was 
too early to decide whether Mr. Duterte's approach is effective. 
"Let's give him his 100 days," Mr. Casiple said.

Mr. Duterte has recently raised his sights beyond street-level users 
and dealers, accusing five police generals of protecting drug lords, 
though he presented no specific evidence.

He also publicly accused a mayor, the mayor's son and a prominent 
businessman of drug trafficking, threatening their lives if they did 
not surrender.

But the people killed on the street tend to be more like Mr. Siaron, 
the rickshaw driver.

Mr. Siaron lived with his wife in a shack above a garbage-strewn 
creek. Having never finished high school, he survived on odd jobs 
like house painting and working in fast-food restaurants.

Lately he had been pedaling a rickshaw, earning about $2 a day 
ferrying passengers though the warren of alleyways in a run-down part 
of metropolitan Manila.

On the night he died, he had stopped by his father's fruit stand to 
ask for an apple.

Then he told his father he would seek one more fare before heading 
home. As he rode off, gunmen on motorcycles sped by, pumping several 
bullets into him.

What happened next turned him into a national symbol of the human 
toll of Mr. Duterte's war.

When she heard he had been shot, Mr. Siaron's wife, Jennilyn Olayres, 
ran into the street, burst through police lines and collapsed next to 
him on the asphalt. The photographer snapped the picture: a 
distraught woman cradling her lifeless husband under a streetlight, a 
Pieta of the Manila slums.

The police have not commented publicly about the case and have not 
accused Mr. Siaron of selling drugs.

"My husband was a simple man," Ms. Olayres said at his wake several 
days later. "He may have used drugs, but he was not violent and never 
bothered anyone. His only concern was looking for passengers so we 
can eat three meals a day."

During his speech to Congress, Mr. Duterte dismissed the photo, which 
had appeared on the front page of The Philippine Daily Inquirer the 
previous day under the banner headline "Thou shall not kill."

"There you are sprawled on the ground, and you are portrayed in a 
broadsheet like Mother Mary cradling the dead cadaver of Jesus 
Christ," he said. "That's just drama."

But if the antidrug campaign has targeted people on the margins of 
society, Mr. Siaron is an apt symbol.

"We're small people, insignificant," Ms. Olayres said through sobs as 
she stood next to her husband's coffin. "We may be invisible to you, 
but we are real. Please stop the killings."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom