|A suspected drug pusher is surrounded by policemen during a night patrol in an urban poor community in Manila. (Photo by Vincent Go)|
Linda, a 40-year-old mother of six, lost her husband, Oliver, on July 1. He was one of the first casualties of the Philippine government's bloody war on illegal drugs.
Oliver was shot and killed by masked gunmen who turned out to be policemen. "He was grabbed, beaten, and shot in front of everyone," said Linda.
Her husband was playing cards with friends when the armed men came.
Death came quick. "The next thing I saw was my husband, lying in the dirt with blood all over his face," said Linda.
Everybody was told to leave the scene of the crime, even Linda and her children.
Uniformed policemen came. They talked to the men in masks.
The gunmen then left the village, leaving behind scattered playing cards, a broken table, bloodstains, a caliber .38 revolver, and a sachet of white powder believed to be methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu.
An official police report called the killing a drug bust operation.
Linda's husband "fought back, forcing authorities to neutralize him," it said.
"It was a lie," said Linda. "It was not a buy-bust operation, it was murder."
The Philippine National Police has so far recorded a total of 5,869 drug-related killings since July 1.
No excuse for killings
Father Benjamin Alforque of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart said nobody has the right to execute anyone without due process.
"Every accused, regardless if the accusations are true or not, must be given a chance to defend himself," said Father Alforque, convenor of church-backed rights group Rise Up.
He expressed alarm at how the killings seemed to have become acceptable to Filipinos because of President Rodrigo Duterte's claim that killing drug addicts will eliminate street crimes.
Father Alforque said the killings might not be state-sponsored but "syndicate criminal killings" perpetrated by agents of the state who are also agents of the narcotics trade.
Jose Luis Martin Gascon, chairman of the Commission on Human Rights, said "a section" of the national police force involved in narcotics is "cleaning up evidence" by killing "low-level assets."
"It is really very dangerous because the whole point of the matter is how can we fully enforce the law when the law enforcers themselves violate it," said Gascon.
Rights activists become targets
Nardy Sabino of the activist group Promotion of Church People's Response warned of a "great possibility" that state forces will use the campaign against narcotics to go after human rights activists.
"[State agents] are actually using it now to justify the killings of activists, peasant leaders, community organizers, and human rights defenders," said Sabino.
On Dec. 5, Joel Lising was drinking coffee outside his home in Manila's Tondo district when two motorcycle-riding gunmen shot him six times.
The police listed Lising's death as another drug-related "murder under investigation." His family and friends, however, vouched for Lising's integrity.
"He was not a drug pusher or user. He was an activist," said a colleague who asked not to be named for fear of his life.
Lising was a leader of a drivers' group that launched a protest rally in Manila to oppose a plan to phase out motorcycles from plying the city's roads.
Cora Agovida, spokeswoman of the Stop the Killing Network, said Lising's killing proved that the government' anti-drug war is being used against activists.
"It is worrisome that the war on drugs can be used to target leaders who are fighting for the interests of the people," said Agovida.
Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of human rights group Karapatan, also reported that soldiers are visiting homes of activists in the guise of looking for drugs.
She cited the case of four peasants in Bulacan province who were arrested for allegedly being communist rebels but were charged in court for possession of illegal drugs.
The farmers were complaining against the conversion of some 1,000 hectares of farmland in the province for non-agricultural use.
"It was the first case wherein the war on drugs was used against farmers fighting for their legitimate rights to land," said Palabay.
She said it is "alarming" that landlords are exploiting the government's anti-narcotics war "to harass and undermine farmers and their assertion to defend the land."
Sri Lanka: 'pasan' is a song of sorrow chanted at night during the 40 days of lent.