Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 4 February 2007


“I was in favor of [President Duterte’s] slogan ‘Change.’  All Filipinos want change. But no Filipino wants dead bodies all over the streets, and for the police killing people to become the norm.”

Thus begins the report of Amnesty International (AI) on extrajudicial executions in the Philippines’ “war on drugs,” titled “If you are poor, you are killed.” It is a quote from a woman whose husband was unlawfully killed in a police operation.

It is a terrific quote for two reasons: 1) It reflects what we Filipinos have in the back of our minds, no matter what our political persuasions are, and (2) it was spoken, not by an “elite,” not by a “yellowtard,” but by a “masa”—a 30-year-old woman who related that her house, which had a dirt floor, was wrecked during a “buy-bust operation.” She said it happened during a belated celebration of the birthday of her husband, who was killed with four celebrating friends, leaving her and an infant child.

The report of 66 pages (with 398 footnotes) is available at the AI website. The Reader can limit herself to the executive summary, but I highly recommend reading the whole report, as it provides a very good glimpse into well-researched descriptions of alleged buy-bust operations, killings in detention, and pressures and incentives that encourage police killings, planting of “evidence” and falsifying police reports, killings by vigilantes, and direct links to state authorities.

The title of the report stems from the finding that: “Victims of drug-related killings tend to have two things in common. First, they were overwhelmingly from the urban poor. Many were unemployed and lived in informal settlements or squatter communities.” Which means that “the killings mean further misery for already impoverished families, at times compounded by police officers stealing from them during crime scene investigations.” Thus the “If you are poor, you are killed” title.

The report is actually tactful. It should have added “And then you are fu**d” to the title, because it talks about bringing bodies to expensive funeral homes thought to be in cahoots with the police, who get commissions for each corpse.

In stark contrast to how the poor are treated, the report cites a $120 million drug bust, supposedly the largest in the country’s history, where all 10 people involved were arrested (including three Chinese), and no one was killed. They are now in court, defending themselves.  All nonpoor.

The report has been criticized by some (Sen. Dick Gordon, for one) as being “hearsay” and not worthy of a Senate investigation. And by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II who has contested the finding that the Philippines might be liable for crimes against humanity, saying, “The criminals, the drug lords, drug pushers, they are not humanity. They are not humanity.”

Criminals do not belong to humanity? How then can Aguirre depend on their testimony, convicted as they are, as basis for branding Sen. Leila de Lima a drug queen? And who labeled the 7,025 who have been killed either as a result of police operations or vigilante-style murder as criminals? They did not even undergo a court trial.  They were  included in watchlists, which AI describes as prepared by local government officials where “inclusion is at times based on hearsay and community rumor or rivalry, with little or no verification.” No wonder constitutional commissioner Ed Garcia thinks Aguirre should resign. He is an embarrassment to his profession, and to the cause of justice.

Amnesty International is a reputable organization, with over seven million members. It was founded in the 1960s, and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977 and the UN Prize for Human Rights in 1978. My first introduction to AI was during martial law, when I read its report on military torture in the Philippines. It mentioned Rolando Abadilla as chief torturer and Panfilo Lacson as his assistant. Forty years later, it is talking about police torture and police killings. It is pretty accurate.

We should not kill, but in fact thank, the messenger.