In the drug-war crossfire: The Philippines’ broken childhoods

By Sara Gomez Armas

Manila, May 27 (efe-epa).- At just 10 years of age, Karla witnessed the murder of her father, gunned down by four masked assailants during her aunt’s wake. Her father died instantly, her 13-year-old brother was wounded in the leg, and before her eyes her family was shattered.

The incident occurred in December 2016 in Mandaluyong, Manila, in one of the bloodiest months of the drug war. The murder of Renato Aldeguer, Karla’s father, went unpunished for lack of evidence, but research suggests that the assailants mistook him for someone else in a drug reckoning.

Renato is one of the 27,000 victims of almost four years of the incessant war on drugs waged by President Rodrigo Duterte from the first day of his mandate, but the trauma inherited by Renato’s children is not recorded in any statistics.

“Our Happy Family is Gone,” a Human Rights Watch (HRW) investigation released Wednesday, reports the psychological, economic and social impact of the campaign on minors.

“I saw everything, how my papa was shot… Our happy family is gone. We don’t have anyone to call father now. We want to be with him, but we can’t,” says Karla, who appears in the report under a pseudonym for security reasons, as do others interviewed.

Her brother Robert has had to assume the role of head of the family and works collecting recyclable waste in landfills. “I became a father to my siblings,” he says.

More than 100 children have died in the crossfire of the war on drugs, “collateral damage” of the campaign that has also left thousands of children traumatized, orphaned or plunged into poverty.

“It’s not just about figures, statistics or dead people,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of HRW, said in an interview with EFE by phone, adding that the NGO wanted to focus on the long-term impact of the war on drugs on the families, especially the children.

He said that although the campaign does not garner as much media attention as it did in the beginning, “the killings continue in a brutal, planned and systematic manner.”

Robertson hopes the report will serve to bring abuses in the Philippines back to the front line, ahead of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet presenting her long-awaited report on the Philippines to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva next month.

“We expect a concerted effort by member states to adopt a new HRC resolution that will establish an independent international investigation mechanism to explore rights abuses during the drug war in the Philippines,” he said.

The 48-page report includes the testimonies of 10 children, 23 parents, relatives or guardians, 16 government officials, NGO staff members and community leaders to document the impact of 23 murders on the victim’s families in six cities and provinces in the country.

Depression, trauma, homelessness, bullying and the inability to continue in school are the difficulties faced by children who have lost parents or guardians during the campaign.

“The government needs to stop this endless violence that is upending children’s lives and direct assistance to the children harmed,” said Carlos Conde, HRW’s Philippines researcher.

Child advocacy groups in the Philippines recorded the deaths of 101 children between July 2016 and December 2018, but press reports show that during 2019 and 2020, child killings continued.

The escalation of violence and impunity reached a turning point in August 2017, when police killed 17-year-old Kian delos Santos in the impoverished district of Caloocan, Manileño.

According to police, Kian resisted arrest during a raid, although a security camera recorded his cold-blooded murder and how officers placed drugs on his lifeless body.

The case caused a huge uproar with thousands of Filipinos taking to the streets to denounce human rights violations. A year later, three officers were found guilty of murder and sentenced to 40 years in prison, the only police convictions in the drug war to date.

“If not for the CCTV footage, the truth about my nephew’s death may not have been known and there never would have been a case against the policemen,” said Kian’s uncle, Randy delos Santos, in the HRW report.

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