MANILA, Philippines — A Filipino teenager at the center of the latest outcry against the president’s bloody crackdown against illegal drugs was buried Saturday, with mourners turning his funeral into a protest against thousands of drug killings.
Hundreds of mourners and left-wing activists carried placards that read “Stop killing the poor” and “Justice for Kian” during a kilometers-long (miles-long) funeral march before Kian Loyd delos Santos was interred at a public cemetery in the Manila metropolis.
The 17-year-old student, who wanted to become a police officer, was one of more than 80 drug and crime suspects who were killed in purported gunbattles with police over three days this month in the bloodiest few days of President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drug campaign. The killings sparked alarm and official investigations.
During a funeral Mass at a church, Roman Catholic Bishop Pablo David urged authorities to “stop the killings and start the healing.”
The Rev. Flaviano Villanueva said that the slain student had become a symbol, and that his death and burial had “burst open the sleeping hearts and consciences of the Filipino people.”
“This is proof that the country itself is screaming enough is enough, and we should end these killings,” he said.
Murder and torture complaints were filed Friday against three police officers and their commander in the Aug. 16 shooting death of delos Santos in suburban Caloocan city.
“The thousands who lined up the streets and joined the funeral march of Kian delos Santos is a strong protest against Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and the poor,” left-wing leader Renato Reyes said. “The people are saying, ‘Enough!'”
Police say delos Santos was a drug dealer who opened fire with a pistol during a raid. His family, however, says he was mercilessly killed by police as he was pleading for his life.
During a televised Senate hearing this past week, Commission on Human Rights Chairman Chito Gascon expressed astonishment at police claims that most of the more than 3,200 drug suspects they have gunned down since the crackdown began last year fought back, prompting law enforcers to shoot them.
Aside from those deaths, more than 2,000 others have died in drug-related killings, including attacks by motorcycle-riding masked gunmen, who human rights groups allege are policemen in disguise or their civilian hit men. Police deny such claims.
Delos Santos’s grieving parents and some neighbors have pointed to a village security camera video that shows a man, who they say was delos Santos, being held by both arms and dragged away from near his home shortly before he was shot in a dark, muddy alley near a canal. They said the video showing him in police custody belies the police claim that he tried to escape and that he had a pistol with him.
Police officers linked to the killing acknowledged in the Senate hearing that they were the ones in the video, but said the man they were dragging away was a civilian informant who was trying to hide his face from villagers out of fear.
Duterte has expressed extraordinary support for police enforcing his crackdown, promising to pardon them if they are convicted to keep them out of jail. Amid the growing outcry, however, he ordered the arrest of the policemen linked to the killing of delos Santos and ordered an investigation.
“The president has clearly stated that the war against drugs is not a license to break the law,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said. “This incident, however, would not deter the administration from the task of reducing criminality and illegal drugs.”
“The campaign against illegal drugs would continue,” Abella said.