Five-year-old Danica May became the youngest reported victim of the Philippine government’s abusive “war on drugs” on Tuesday.
The kindergarten student died from a gunshot wound to the head after an unidentified gunman opened fire on her grandfather, Maximo Garcia, as the family sat down to lunch. The attack came just three days after Garcia had registered with local police, who suspected his involvement in the drug trade. Garcia had said he wasn’t. He survived being shot in the abdomen in the attack, which police have attributed to unnamed “drug dealers.”
Danica May is just one of more than a thousand Filipinos killed by unidentified gunmen between July 1, when President Roderigo Duterte took office, and August 19. Official statistics show that, in addition, police have killed 712 suspected “drug pushers and users” in the same time period. These killings suggest Duterte’s aggressive rhetoric advocating violent, extrajudicial solutions to crime in the Philippines has found willing takers. Last month, he exhorted Filipinos who knew of any drug addicts to “go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful.” This prompted the United Nations special rapporteur on summary executions, Agnes Callamard, to accuse Duterte of effectively granting the police and others “a license to kill.”
The same day Danica May bled to death in her family’s kitchen, Philippine Department of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre defended the killings linked to Duterte’s “war on drugs.” Aguirre refused to respond to repeated calls for the Justice Department to launch an urgent and impartial investigation of those killings, and he expressed firm support for Duterte’s promise “to do everything to stop drugs, crime and corruption.” He dismissed criticism and insisted that, “If you’re in the Philippines, you will choose to kill these drug lords.” Aguirre justified killings of alleged criminal suspects on the basis that, “Desperate times call for desperate measures. So this is what the president is doing and we support it.”
Aguirre’s perverse endorsement of extrajudicial violence as crime control suggests that Danica May is unlikely to be the last child victim. Each day, the death toll from the government’s “war on drugs” climbs higher and higher.