Teen’s Death May Have Turned The Tide Of Duterte’s Drug War

By Victoria Kim 08/25/17

Recent video footage of police dealing with a teenage drug suspect has impacted how Filipinos perceive the brutal drug war. 

Kian Loyd delos Santos was gunned down by Philippine police last week.
Kian Loyd delos Santos was gunned down by Philippine police last week. Photo via YouTube

Critics of the bloody drug war in the Philippines say the tide may be turning, after the latest high-profile victim, a 17-year-old boy, was killed by police in a sweeping crackdown last week.

Kian Loyd delos Santos was one of 96 alleged drug suspects who were killed by Philippine National Police (PNP) in just three days—what authorities called a “one-time, big-time” crackdown of drug users, dealers, and everyone in between.

According to political analysts, the teen’s death may be the catalyst for changing attitudes about President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign to wipe out all drug suspects in the country. 

Duterte ran for office last year campaigning on the promise that he would kill 100,000 criminals in the first six months of his presidency. He encouraged Filipinos to shoot and kill drug suspects. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 7,000 suspected drug offenders have been killed in the drug war since Duterte became president.

It seems, though, that Kian’s death made a significant impact on how Filipinos perceive the drug war. In response to last week’s killings, the bloodiest week of his drug war yet, Duterte initially said, “Let’s kill another 32 every day. Maybe we can reduce what ails this country.” But after Kian’s death, Duterte agreed with the Senate’s decision to open an investigation, saying, “If there is a liability, they will go to jail.”

Those closely following the events say that Filipinos are beginning to reconsider the legitimacy of the drug war—after police were caught lying about the circumstances leading to Kian’s death. PNP have justified the majority of civilian killings by claiming they were acting in self defense. They did the same with Kian, initially claiming that the teen had “fought it out” before they shot and killed him. 

But surveillance footage revealed that they were lying. Police are shown dragging the teen and bringing him to a remote area where they handed him a gun and ordered him to run. When he turned around, they shot him “at least twice” in the head at close range. 

There apparently hasn’t been this type of video evidence to prove that PNP has been lying about the nature of the killings. Now that Filipinos have seen it for themselves, experts say it’s shifted the national consciousness. On Monday, thousands gathered in protest of Kian’s murder. “Kian’s plight is a wake-up call of why we need to safeguard human rights,” a Philippine human rights advocate told the New York Times. “It is a much-needed jolt.”

Before, many Filipinos supported the drug war, some saying that it made them feel safer. Now, the president's violent anti-drugs campaign is in danger of losing the public's support.

“Duterte knows this can be transformed into a political issue against his administration,” a political analyst told the Times. “I think he wants to defuse the situation before it becomes a real threat to his presidency.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr