Killing the Young in Duterte’s War on Drugs
■ Richard Calayeg Cornelio
Kian had precise habits. He would rise before sunup to arrange biscuits and Zest-O outside their store. For breakfast, he would eat a pack of chips while listening to blaring rap songs or share it with friends idling by his storefront. He was a friend to everyone, regaling them with jokes and stories exchanged through his window. Rain or shine, you could always trust Kian to open for business at the usual time. So in the morning of August 17, when the store’s window panels remained shut, his neighbors could only sigh, worried that something bad had befallen the kid.
The night before, Kian Lloyd delos Santos was gunned down by cops in what the latter described as a shootout. His dead body was found face down in a fetal position in a trash-clogged alley near his house. He was 17.
The death toll has now reached 13,000. Yet it was the deaths of Kian and other youths that spurred the people to voice a resounding resistance to President Duterte’s War on Drugs. These senseless killings bear witness to the impunity of this state-sanctioned slaughter which targets mainly the poor and marginalized.
Persistence of memory
Kian’s death could not be more puzzling to those who knew him. Theirs are memories of a boy given to laughter, music and hard work.
For Ed*, his childhood friend, he remembered Kian most from when they jogged round Eternal Gardens, the way Kian would suddenly dance “’yung pang-disco.” For Manny, a big brother to Kian, it was those times when the boy asked for his help to write a love song. For Marie, his neighbor, it was when they shared a boat on the way to school: how there was not a pause in their conversation that he didn’t fill with a punch line.
For Lorenza delos Santos, Kian was a loving son. At the Senate hearing on August 24, she said “Pinalaki ko po [si Kian] na may respeto sa nakakatanda sa kanya, sa taong may katungkulan.” In spite of poverty, she raised her children to be God-fearing and honest people.
The third of four siblings, Kian was taught to man their store to help out with the family’s earnings while Lorenza worked as a domestic helper in Saudi Arabia. Without fail, Kian would talk to Lorenza via Messenger while minding the store. At noon, he would wake up his father, Saldy, to relieve himself of duty before going to school.
Only going to school meant traversing city lines on a boat to cross Tullahan River. Kian would sometimes be late and blame the traffic in the river, to his classmates’ amusement. He was a good student, said Michael Figueroa, principal of Our Lady of Lourdes Senior High School, during the probe. “[Kian] has never been involved in any drug-related incident, except for simple naughtiness like he was caught cutting classes one time,” he said
School was also fodder for stories to tell his friends from around the block. “Kengkoy ng tropa” is how the boys of Barangay 160 describe Kian. These young men knew Kian, having grown-up brothers in the riverside alleys. Kian would often take out his speaker and they would all sing along to rap songs.
“Soundtrip,” his crew calls it. They would break into rap at the slightest beat and could improvise lyrics in a snap. Yet never did they expect to find themselves at their friend’s wake, rapping the lyrics, “Wala ‘kong kasalanan. Inosente lang ako.”
While the police asserts self-defense to justify Kian’s death, witnesses describe the incident as the murder of a defenseless minor.
Police allege Kian fought back. They say he tried to run and shot at them. They say they had to fire back. A .45-caliber pistol, four cartridges and two sachets of shabu were supposedly recovered from his body. The spot report places three officers on the scene at 8:45 p.m.: PO3 Arnel Oares, PO1 Jerwin Cruz and PO1 Jeremias Pereda. All three say that Kian was a drug runner, per the testimony of an arrested drug suspect and intel from social media.
However, one witness claims three plainclothes officers arrived at around 8 p.m. on motorcycles, armed with handguns. Kian was outside a shop near his house when the men grabbed him, slugged and slapped him, then dragged him away in a headlock. The barangay’s CCTV footage shows two men marching him from one alley to another followed by a third man. They stopped at a cul-de-sac near a basketball court. Here, Kian was told to flee with a gun he was forcibly given. When he did, he was shot.
Kian’s corpse lay curled up against a muddy corner near a pigsty. He died in a blue shirt and boxer shorts. A gun was found in his left hand, though he was right-handed. Kian later tested negative for gunpowder nitrates, further disputing the police’s defense.
An autopsy by the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) forensic lab also reveals that Kian sustained three entry wounds: one inside his ear, one behind his left ear and one to his back which penetrated his lungs. The report concludes he was shot at close range, indicating intentionality. The PNP, however, reports only two gunshot wounds. Yet both findings agree that the gunman was standing over Kian who was kneeling face down. Before the shots rang out, witnesses heard the boy screaming “Tama na po! May test pa ako bukas!”
A Tale of Terror
“The cold-blooded killing of [Kian] is yet another proof that shows how those in power — with guns and the capacity to distort the truth with planted evidence and a staged crime scene — completely disregard the right to life of the poor,” said human rights group Karapatan in a statement.
No less than the president has encouraged the extrajudicial killings. In addition to his incendiary rhetoric, Duterte recently praised the bloodiest raid yet which happened in Bulacan. “Maganda ‘yun,” he said on August 16, the same day Kian was killed. “Makapatay lang tayo ng mga another 32 every day, then maybe we can reduce what ails this country.”
For President Duterte, what ails the country are criminals and drug dependents who he believes are “of no use to society anymore.” He has had many Filipinos believe that killing innocent bystanders are only worth the money spared in the process of wiping them out. He has no qualms about bypassing legal instruments despite opposition from various sectors of civil society.
At the president’s behest, the police are pressured into abusive practices, such as torture, falsification of evidence and threats, to deliver results. Even more emboldened by Duterte’s vow to protect them, police officers conduct anti-drug operations and leave dead bodies in their wake.
According to Human Rights Watch, a nongovernmental organization, most of the victims of drug-related killings have been small-scale peddlers and users from the urban poor while big-time syndicates in drug cartels remain scot-free. As the poor are victims of their living conditions, they are also preys to state abuse.
“’Si Kian, ‘yung batang ‘yon walang alam, pag-aaral lang; nagsisikap para makaahon sa kahirapan,” Saldy said after the hearing. “Isang saglit lang, pinatay nila.”
If things had turned out differently, Kian would have woken up on the morning of August 17 looking forward to the same things that had defined his normal day: a store to look after, a boat ride to school, a joke to crack, a story to share. Then, with three bullets, his life was ended by this fascist state. But as long as we resist to forget and continue to fight, the story of Kian continues — one that is part of the narrative of a nation that persists in memory and fights for its people. ■
* not their real names
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