Pubdate: Fri, 06 Jan 2017
Source: USA Today (US)
Copyright: 2017 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)
Author: Thomas Maresca


About 4,000 of drug suspects were killed by vigilantes or executions on
the spot.

[photo] Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte greets spectators during a
ceremony to honor the death anniversary of national hero Jose Rizal, at
the Jose Rizal Park in Manila, Philippines, on Dec. 30, 2016.(Photo: Mark
R. Cristino, EPA)

MANILA -- Sammer Torculas had just returned home from playing with his
children outside in Pandacan, a lower-middle class district in the
Philippine capital, when he heard a knock at the door.

Several men with guns drawn stormed into the house.

The target of the Dec. 7 incident was Torculas' mother -- an admitted
dealer of shabu, the local name for crystal meth. Torculas' girlfriend,
Chilotte Flaviano, took their five kids into the bedroom. She heard loud
voices and then gunfire.

Torculas, 27, died, struck by eight bullets on the street. Police say he
fired first, but Flaviano insisted Torculas didn't own a gun. His mother
was arrested.

Like many cases in the Philippines' war on drugs, details are murky and no
official police report has been produced. All that is left behind is fear
over how Flaviano will raise the young children.

"What are my options right now?" she asked. "I'm the only one left."

Similar scenes have played out here and in other cities under President
Rodrigo Duterte's controversial drug war. The total body count of
suspected drug dealers or users tops 6,000 -- with more than 2,000 of them
killed in police operations, while the other 4,000 died in vigilante or
extrajudicial killings.

Duterte has made the drug war his signature issue and initially vowed to
clean up the problem six months after taking office on June 30. He
recently told a local news station that he had "miscalculated," and that
the problem was larger than he realized. He vowed to continue the drug war
"until the last pusher is out in the streets, until the last drug lord is

The spate of killings has drawn condemnation from human rights groups that
contend many of the deaths amount to illegal executions.

Duterte -- who boasted to the BBC in December that he personally killed
three suspects while mayor of the southern city of Davao -- has remained
defiant. He called the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein an "idiot" for suggesting the president be
investigated for murder after that admission.

As nightly images on television show bodies lying in the streets, public
support for Duterte's approach is strong. A December poll by Philippine
research group Social Weather Stations found 85% of Filipinos were
satisfied with the ongoing drug operations.

At the same time, 78% of respondents also said they feared that they or
someone they know would be killed in the wave of extrajudicial killings.
There have been numerous news accounts of bystanders killed in shootouts
or unrelated killings taking place under the cover of Duterte's drug war.

One widely publicized example was the killing of Mark Anthony Culata, 27,
in October in the town of Tanza in Cavite. Culata's body was found
mutilated, taped up and with a sign on him that read, "I am a pusher."

Culata had no record of drug use and was scheduled to be heading back to
Saudi Arabia, where he worked. A surveillance video showed him being
picked up by police, and many in his family are convinced his death was
connected to a jealous policeman who was dating Culata's ex-girlfriend.

Eva Culata, the slain man's mother, said the family didn't want his name
to be forgotten. "We want to seek justice for Mark," she said. "He does
not deserve to die like this."

The National Bureau of Investigation, the Philippine's FBI, is looking
into the incident, and four policemen from the town were suspended in

Police and criminal violence predates Duterte's presidency, according to
Philippine Sen. Richard Gordon, who led a judicial committee that cleared
Duterte of culpability for the extrajudicial killings in December. Gordon
said the president's rhetoric is inflaming the violence, but its roots run

"I think people have missed the point that our system is rotten," Gordon
said. "The whole prosecution system is rotten. The whole investigation
system is rotten. There's not enough money for more investigators. There's
not enough money for crime laboratories. There's too many passes being
issued to people who do crime, and that's what gives them impunity."

The public's distrust and frustration with the system allows Duterte's
message to resonate, said John Gershman, a professor of public service at
New York University and an expert on the Philippines.

"I think he's effectively tapped into this dissatisfaction with the
criminal justice system," Gershman said.

Perhaps the biggest question looming over Duterte's drug war is whether he
will win it. Duterte claims the country of 102 million has 4 million drug
users and is in danger of turning into a narco-state. Many drug policy
experts say that without a public health approach to addiction, drugs and
crime will not go away.

"You can't kill your way out of this problem, or jail your way out of this
problem," said Sanho Tree, director of the drug policy program at the
Institute for Policy Studies, a think tank in Washington, D.C. "You can
temporarily drive down the market, or suppress it, but the moment you let
up the pressure -- because you haven't treated these people -- it's going
to cause a huge backlash."

A comparison can be drawn to nearby Thailand, which launched a crackdown
on drugs in 2003, killing 2,800 people during the first three months of a
campaign by then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The campaign initially
reduced drug consumption, but the prison population soared and
methamphetamine use eventually rose again.

Thailand's Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya recently proposed that meth
be taken off the list of dangerous narcotics, saying measures to suppress
drug use have failed.

"Once Duterte has driven away or killed a lot of these gang members, he's
creating turf wars that eventually will come back to haunt him and haunt
Philippine society in my opinion," Tree said.

Many living in drug-ravaged neighborhoods in Manila report they feel
safer. Others who have seen the violence up close are fearful.

"I'm afraid now," Flaviano said. "Anyone could be a victim. ... All of a
sudden you could be next."
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