The death of one unarmed teenager is helping to turn the tide of public opinion against Philippine President Rodrgio Duterte's brutal drug war, in which thousands of Filipinos have been shot by police over the past year. 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos was one of 96 people killed in a Manila drug raid that police referred to as a “one-time, big-time” crackdown on drug dealers and users in the nation's capital and suburbs.
The police reported that delos Santos had been carrying a handgun, and that they shot him in self-defense after he “fought it out” with them. Since the teen's shooting on August 16th, surveillance footage has been released that contradicts the official explanation. Witnesses have reported that they saw police hand delos Santos a gun, tell him to run, and then shoot him.
An autopsy found that the teen took two bullets to the head at short range, and delos Santos' father said that the gun was found in his son's left hand, even though he was right-handed. The public outrage over the shooting has spread to the state Senate, where some of the president's allies even crossed party lines to vote in favor of an official investigation.
Duterte has ordered that the officers involved in the shooting be taken into custody, a reversal of his promise to pardon any cops who kill drug users without provocation. “I agree that there should be an investigation,” Duterte said. “If there is liability, they will go to jail.”
“Kian’s plight is a wake-up call of why we need to safeguard human rights,” said Arpee Santiago, director of the Ateneo Human Rights Center. “It is a much needed jolt.” The country's police force have killed over 3,500 people since Duterte gave them free reign to shoot and kill drug offenders, according to their own records. The police have claimed that the majority of these victims were resisting arrest, a claim that many Filipinos doubt the accuracy of.
Santiago said that the surveillance footage of delos Santos' death is proof that many of these police shootings are not justified. Duterte's “sincerity can only be determined in his resolve to make perpetrators of crimes accountable, including those involved in his anti-illegal-drugs campaign,” Santiago said.
Senator Risa Hontiveros said that it was sad that it took the death of a teenager to show the country “how corrupt and abusive President Duterte's drug war really is.”
“The president’s hands are stained by the blood of Kian. He inspired this culture of impunity and killing. He reveled in the deaths of drug addicts, while at the same time turning a blind eye on the big drug lords close to him and his family.”