Despite certain “isolated incidents” of possible police abuse, the streets are “generally safer” these days as a result of the war on illegal drugs, according to presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella.
Last Wednesday night, the streets of Caloocan proved unsafe for 17-year-old high school student Kian Lloyd de los Santos. The Caloocan police gave the standard line about De los Santos being fatally shot after he resisted arrest and fired at the police team conducting an anti-drug sweep in Barangay Baesa at around 8:45 p.m.
Closed circuit TV camera footage, however, showed De los Santos being dragged away by two policemen to a spot where his lifeless body was later found with gunshots. Witnesses said De los Santos was blindfolded and beaten by the police, and then given a gun that he was told to use as he was told to run away.
At least the three policemen involved have been relieved together with the station commander, but this was probably for sloppy work and incompetence rather than for summarily executing a teenage boy. Grieving relatives said De los Santos did not use drugs and had not registered under Oplan Tokhang.
Even several senators allied with the administration were appalled, noting that the death of De los Santos didn’t look like an honest mistake on the part of an overzealous anti-drug unit, but a deliberate operation to kill an innocent youth. The case has heightened concern over the surge in drug-related police killings this week, with 32 shot dead within one day in Bulacan alone and 25 in the city of Manila. How many of those killings involved victims like De los Santos?
Since last year, the public has shown remarkable forbearance for the thousands killed by the police in carrying out President Duterte’s war on drugs. This has been attributed to public frustration over a broken justice system, with people willing to give the President and his shock troops virtual carte blanche to carry out the brutal war. There was hardly any condemnation when top members of the Parojinogs, the clan behind the Kuratong Baleleng crime ring, were gunned down in Ozamiz.
This forbearance can be shaken, however, and support for the drug war dramatically eroded by abuses such as the one employed on De los Santos. The government must show the public that those responsible will be punished, and that De los Santos – and other victims of summary executions – will get justice.