Death of third Philippine teen intensifies scrutiny of ‘war on drugs’

By: Euan Black - Posted on: September 7, 2017 | Current Affairs

President Duterte’s violent crackdown has claimed its third teenage victim in as many weeks, but public horror has not stopped the extrajudicial killings

Filipinos hold a funeral march for Filipino Kian Loyd delos Santos before his burial in Caloocan City, northeast of Manila, Philippines, 26 August 2017. Photo: EPA/Rolex Dela Pena

The body of a 14-year-old boy who was reported missing 20 days ago was found on Wednesday evening in a creek in Gapan City, a three-hour drive north of Manila. Reynaldo de Guzman, whose body had been stabbed numerous times and head wrapped in plastic and packaging tape, is the third teenage victim of Duterte’s war on drugs in as many weeks.

“They mercilessly killed a defenseless missing child. He was stabbed all over,” said Guzman’s mother, Lina Gabriel, standing by the side of her son’s body in a video posted online by TV station DZMM Teleradyo.

Guzman had last been seen with his friend, Carl Angelo Arnaiz, on 18 August in a suburb northeast of Manila. That same night, Arnaiz was killed in a firefight with police who said they were pursuing the 19-year-old after he had allegedly robbed a taxi driver.

However, forensic experts found possible signs of torture on the teenager’s body, including bruises and handcuff marks, suggesting the teenager was the victim of a cold blooded killing.

The death of Arnaiz came just two days after 17-year-old Kian Delos Santos was shot twice in the head and once in the back by police. CCTV footage of the killing showed a handcuffed Santos being dragged down an alley by policemen, casting serious doubt on official accounts that police had only shot the teenager after he fired at them.

Following the release of the damning video footage, President Rodrigo Duterte, who had previously referred to children as “collateral damage” and said he would pardon all policemen found to have killed people in the war on drugs, conceded that there needed to be an investigation into the teenager’s death.

The pugnacious leader continues to enjoy widespread support among the Philippine population, but many believe the death of Santos was a turning point in the war on drugs. Thousands joined the teenager’s funeral procession on 26 August, while the Department of Justice, the Senate, and the Commission on Human Rights all launched probes into his death.

In response to Guzman’s death, Senator Francis Pangilinan said more than 30 boys had been killed in Duterte’s war on drugs, a brutal crackdown that has taken claimed more than 7,000 lives since July.

According to James Gomez, Amnesty International’s director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, the violent campaign had “not ended crime or solved the problems associated with drugs”, which Duterte promised on the campaign trail to put an end to within three to six months in office.

“What it has done is turn the country into an even more dangerous place, further undermined the rule of law, and earned him notoriety as a leader responsible for the death of thousands of his own citizens,” Gomez said in a statement on 29 June.