Fifteen months into his presidency, Rodrigo Duterte‘s brutal crackdown on the drug trade does not seem to be slowing down.
The Philippine president says he wants to kill as many people involved with drugs as possible and lists his critics as “public enemies”. Journalists are among the people on that list, and now, NGO workers have also been moved into that category.
Earlier this month, the president told the police, on camera, to shoot human rights workers who “obstruct justice”. Duterte clearly understands the role such advocates play in the media food chain. Silencing them is another way to keep a lid on this story.
Despite his critics in the media, the polls say Duterte remains popular with Filipinos. For that, he may have
bloggers and social media figures to thank. The so-called DDS, Die-hard Duterte Supporters, have the president’s back, denigrating his critics online and shaping public opinion.
“Human rights groups are beginning to gain ground. So now he has to take them on,” says Vergel Santos, chairman, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility. “When you are a president who is predisposed to a dictatorial leadership, you are necessarily against human rights.”
Earlier this week, CCTV footage showed a subdued 17-year-old Kian Loyd Delos Santos getting dragged by police into an alley, where he was subsequently killed. Police called it a shoot-out with a drug suspect, but eyewitnesses say he was distraught, telling the police he had to go home, that he had school the next day. They say the police gave him a gun and told him to run. He was shot and killed.
It was just one death, among the thousands killed in the Filipino war of drugs. But this particular killing – and the story behind it – have lingered in the mainstream news media and online, in a way that others have not.
It wasn’t the Filipino media’s reporting, their constant documenting of the killings or their raising of human rights issues that ended up putting police under investigation and the Duterte government on the defensive.
It was pure happenstance, the existence of a single CCTV camera, and the emergence of about two seconds of real-time video that put the lie to the official version of one teenager’s brutal killing, that changed the story.
“In the other killings, it’s just the police version saying that, you know, that the criminal allegedly fought it out with them and that’s why they were killed,” says Felipe Villamor, Philippines reporter for The New York Times. But in Kian’s case, “they [the police] got caught.”
Maria Ressa, CEO, Rappler
Vergel Santos, chairman, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
RJ Nieto, publisher, Thinking Pinoy
Karen Gomez-Dumpit, commissioner, Commission on Human Rights
Felipe Villamor, Philippines reporter, The New York Times
Source: Al Jazeera