(New York) – The apparent extrajudicial executions by Philippine police of two children over a three-day period underscores the need for a United Nations inquiry into President Rodrigo Duterte’s abusive “war on drugs,” Human Rights Watch said today. While several dozen children under 18 have died in drug war-related killings since June 2016, circumstances suggest that the Philippine National Police (PNP) deliberately targeted the two children.
“The apparent willingness of Philippine police to deliberately target children for execution marks an appalling new level of depravity in this so-called drug war,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director. “These killings demonstrate that Duterte’s rejection of the rule of law has made all Filipinos potential ‘drug-war’ victims, no matter how young.”
On September 6, 2017, a passerby spotted the body of Reynaldo de Guzman, a 14-year-old Grade 5 student from Pasig City, floating in a creek, 20 days after he was reported missing. A pathologist report indicates that de Guzman died from at least 30 stab wounds after his assailants wrapped his head in packing tape. Packing tape has been a gruesome hallmark of many drug-war killings under Duterte. De Guzman had last been seen alive on August 18 in the company of his friend Carl Angelo Arnaiz, 19, who the police shot to death later that day after they accused him of robbing a taxi driver in Manila’s Caloocan City.
Two days earlier, on August 16, police anti-drug officers in Caloocan City killed 17-year-old Kian delos Santos. Police said they shot delos Santos after he fired on them during an anti-drug operation. However, both witness accounts and close circuit television camera footage indicate that police executed an unarmed delos Santos while he was in police custody and dumped his body in an alley.
The killings of delos Santo and de Guzman bring to at least 54 the number of children killed by police and “unidentified gunmen” in the “war on drugs” since July 2016, according to data from the Children's Legal Rights and Development Center. Most of those children had been shot while in the company of adults who were the apparent target of the shooting. Both Duterte and Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II have dismissed those killings as “collateral damage.”
Duterte’s government has also imperiled children by approving a plan for mandatory drug testing for all college students and applicants. The order permits local governments, the police, and other law enforcement agencies to “carry out any drug-related operation within the school premises” with the approval of school administrators. This will effectively allow the police to extend their abusive anti-drug operations to college and university campuses, placing students at grave risk.
A public uproar over the killings of delos Santos and de Guzman has prompted Duterte, the Justice Department, and the Philippine National Police to promise thorough investigations into their deaths. In August, the Public Attorney’s Office filed murder and torture charges against the police officers implicated in the delos Santos killing. But on September 8, Duterte described de Guzman’s killing as a deliberate act of “sabotage” to “discredit” the police.
There are major concerns about the willingness and capacity of the Philippine authorities to conduct thorough, impartial, and transparent investigations into drug war-related killings. In July, police officials allowed the police officers facing homicide charges in the 2016 killing of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa, Sr. to return to work.
The officers were reinstated even though twin inquiries by the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine Senate reached the conclusion that the officers had committed “premeditated murder” when they shot Espinosa to death in a Manila jail cell on November 5, 2016. Espinosa had surrendered to the police following public accusations by President Duterte that he was a drug trafficker. Both investigations rejected the officers’ assertion that Espinosa died in a firefight in his cell after brandishing a concealed pistol.
Duterte has also systematically sought to vilify, harass, and intimidate those carrying out domestic and international accountability efforts that have challenged his drug war. The targets of the harassment campaign include human rights organizations and activists, lawyers, United Nations officials, journalists, and Philippine lawmakers.
Concerted action by the UN Human Rights Council to address Duterte’s abusive drug war is crucial. The council should press the Philippines government to accept an independent international investigation into all allegations of extrajudicial killings and to hold those responsible to account. The council should also press the government to cooperate with the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, grant unfettered and unconditional access to the rapporteur, and immediately stop all official incitement and instigation of drug war killings.
“A fundamental obligation of every government is to protect the lives of its children, not to empower police and their agents to murder them,” Kine said. “Until Duterte ends his abusive drug war and allows a UN-led international probe, child-killers among the police will continue to get away with murder.”