Philippines: Senate hearing highlights deadly consequences for children in ‘war on drugs’

A hearing in the Philippines Senate has exposed the abysmal failings of the police to protect children from the deadly consequences of the “war on drugs”, Amnesty International said.

The Senate hearing convened on 24 August to address last week’s police killing of the 17-year-old student Kian Loyd Delos Santos, a case which has triggered widespread national and international outrage. Although police claim the killing was done in self-defence, CCTV footage and eyewitnesses have seriously called this into question.

“Kian’s death has rightly sparked a national outcry and public trust in the police is at an all-time low. The only way to address this is for the Philippines authorities to end all deadly drug operations, and return to return to an approach anchored on due process and rule of law,” said James Gomez, Amnesty International’s Director of Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

“Past Senate hearings on the ‘war on drugs’ have led to little meaningful action by police or Philippine authorities. Today’s session cannot become just another talking shop, it must be the first step towards genuine change.”

Thousands of people have been killed since President Rodrigo Duterte launched the “war on drugs” after taking office in June 2016. Amnesty International has documented how many of these killings amount to extrajudicial executions and how victims overwhelmingly come from the country’s poorest neighbourhoods.

During the hearing, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II called Kian’s death an “isolated case” and said that “collateral damage” was inevitable in the “war on drugs”.

According to the Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center, however, at least 31 people under the age of 18 had been killed in police operations or vigilante-style killings during President Duterte’s first year in office.

“Secretary Aguirre’s comments are not only callous and cynical, they are simply untrue. There is no question that many children have paid the ultimate price for the police’s ‘shoot-to-kill’ approach – and many more will unless the ‘war on drugs’ is ended,” said James Gomez.

“Those suspected to be responsible for Kian’s death must be brought to justice. We urge the government to allow for a prompt and thorough investigation by an independent body, such as the Office of the Ombudsman. But investigation into one death is not enough, there must be the same level of accountability for all police killings.”