The death of a 17-year-old boy at the hands of Manila police has galvanized thousands of Filipinos around the world to protest a drug war they once supported. Ana P. Santos reports from Manila.
What was supposed to be a funeral turned into the biggest protest rally to date against the Philippine government's brutal drug war. In the capital, Manila, on Saturday, thousands of protesters turned out for the funeral of 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos.
The high schooler was shot dead on the outskirts of Manila on the night of August 16 by police officers who claimed that he had fired shots at them.
The death of delos Santos sparked a weeklong protest across the Philippines, with additional rallies in Filipino communities around the world, culminating in thousands of protesters attending the hourlong funeral march.
The shooting could also cause a shift in Filipinos' support for the country's violent crackdown on illegal drugs led by President Rodrigo Duterte. Over 12,000 people have been killed in anti-drug police operations and vigilante killings since summer 2016.
Witnesses to the shooting of delos Santos gave an alternative account to what police had said about the incident. They say police beat up delos Santos and forced him to run before shooting him. CCTV footage that was later released backed up these witness accounts.
"It is the buildup of everything that triggered this uprising. Kian is the 31st minor to be killed in this drug war," said Shamah Bulangis, a member of YouthResist, a student activist group, told DW.
"There was CCTV footage and that made everything visceral," said Bulangis. "It also disputed the standard police narrative that the suspect had fought back and was killed in a shootout," added Bulangis, who was among the thousands who attended the funeral march.
During a Senate probe into delos Santos' death, police officers admitted that they were the ones in the CCTV footage, adding that they had "confirmed" delos Santos' drug links via social media after they shot him.
Putting a face on the drug war
According to witnesses, delos Santos begged the police to spare him, saying: "Enough please. I still have a test tomorrow."
These witness testimonies allowed many people to identify with delos Santos and question the official account of his death.
"Kian's death is a tipping point. He put a name, a face and a story to the killings," Jaqueline de Guia, spokesperson of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), told DW.
The CHR is currently investigating an estimated 800 cases of extrajudicial killings under the Duterte administration and has come under fire from the president.
According to de Guia, although the CHR is overstretched and underfunded, it remains unfazed by threats of abolition and death threats.
President Duterte has promised a thorough investigation into the death of delos Santos, changing his tune from his usual promise of protecting police who carry out drug-related operations. However, he vowed to continue the drug war as it is his mandate to rid the country of drugs.
Filipinos abroad dropping support
Delos Santos' mother was working as a household service worker in Saudi Arabia when she heard of her son's death. She had to beg her employer to allow her to go home. Labor rights group Migrante International called on its chapters across the world to demand justice for Kian and all other victims of extrajudicial killings.
"As a mother, it is heartbreaking to go home to see your child in a glass and wooden box," said Dolores Balladares of United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-Migrante) in a statement. "The murderous state, led by Duterte, took him away."
This sentiment is echoed by thousands of Filipino migrant workers around the world - a segment that was among the strongest supporters of Duterte. The Philippines is one of the largest labor exporters in the world, with more than 10 million Filipinos abroad as guest laborers or immigrants.
"President Duterte is definitely losing the support of overseas Filipinos as his drug war continues to target the poor people and small-time drug pushers and users. Is this how he honors foreign workers, by killing our loved ones in the Philippines?" Aurora Victoria David, secretary-general of the San Francisco- based National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON), told DW.
"President Duterte must resolve the underlying problems of poverty, landlessness, and unemployment to truly address the drug problem," David added.
Parents file murder charges
Last Friday, delos Santos' parents filed murder and torture charges against four policemen implicated in their son's death.
The week delos Santos was killed was also labelled as the bloodiest in the Philippine drug war. At least 81 people were killed in a week, more than 30 of whom were shot dead in simultaneous police raids in large urban slum communities in Bulacan province.
There have been a reported 31 minors killed during the Duterte administration's brutal drug war, including a 5-year-old girl who was hit by a stray bullet.