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As Duterte's brutal war on drugs drags on, a mother cries for justice

As Duterte's brutal war on drugs drags on, a mother cries for justice
On March 29 this year, Raymart Siapo, a 19-year-old disabled person became another victim in Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's brutal war on drugs when his bullet-riddled body was found near Barangay. - BERNAMApic
BANGKOK: On March 29 this year, Raymart Siapo, a 19-year-old disabled person became another victim in Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's brutal war on drugs when his bullet-riddled body was found near Barangay NBBS, Navotas City, north of Manila.

On that fateful night, the club-footed (congenital deformity) teenager was abducted by a group of masked armed men after he was falsely tagged by his neighbour whom he had a heated argument with days before, as a drug pusher.
"The men told my son to run but he could not (run) as he is disabled. They shot him in the head and broke his arms too," said his tearful mother, Luzviminda Siapo or Minda, who was working as a maid in Kuwait during the tragedy.

Holding tightly to a picture of Raymart's bloodied and lifeless body during a recent forum on the controversial issue which has pitted Duterte's government against the international community, the tearful Minda said her heart sank when news about Raymart's violent death reached her.
Just starting her work as a maid in the Middle East to provide a better future for her family, the distraught single parent of two children also recalled the battle to convince her "unmoved" employer to believe the tragic death of her teenage son.

The employer subsequently relented and let her return to the Philippines to attend her son's funeral, but only after she did the unthinkable thing.

"I had to kiss my employer's feet three times," said Minda who has since abandoned her status as an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) to take care of her depressed 10-year-old daughter, who struggled to overcome the grief of losing her only brother.

"She cried whenever she saw pictures of Raymart."

As a result of extensive media coverage on the killing of her son, the National Police chief Gen Ronald "Bato" de la Rosa last April reportedly instructed the local police to launch an investigation into the killing of Raymart, but the end result has been unclear.

According to Minda, she had not received any information from the local police and worried that her son's death would be forgotten like other unexplained killings, allegedly carried out by a group of unidentified men under the guise of anti-drugs operations.

"I will persist until I find the truth behind Raymart's killing," she said.

Leah Tanondra-Armamento, a commissioner for the Philippine Commission on Human Rights claimed the unofficial number of documented extrajudicial killings related to the country's war on drugs has risen to 13,000 deaths with only about 8,000 cases investigated.

The government had claimed the number of deaths from the war on drugs stood at about 3,000, which was pale in comparison with the commission's tally.

The victims of alleged extrajudicial killings, according to her, were often from poor families and living on the fringe of society.

"The victims of the extrajudicial killings by unidentified men were those from the impoverished and poor community," she said, adding that the victims' families usually suffered the crime in silence, too poor to seek justice and too scared to confront the authorities.

Despite the brutal and bloody campaign by President Duterte to rid the country from drugs, the commission, she said, supported the government's crackdown on drugs, but not the extrajudicial killings.

"We (the commission) asked President Duterte to stop the (extrajudicial) killings as it is a crime," she said. The commission also wants the Philippine National Police (PNP) to stop being the government's "killing machine" as alleged by many, including from the international community.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Dr Agnes Callamard who spoke in the forum via Skype from New York, said the number of extrajudicial killings related to the Philippines' war on drugs was very alarming.

"The very high number of undocumented deaths in the Philippines means that it is the largest human rights crisis outside of current conflict situations," she said.

The UN, according to the special envoy, had sent reports to the Philippine government on allegations about the extrajudicial killings and wanted to know about the investigations into the allegations.

"But unfortunately, the (Philippine) government has been reluctant to engage with what has been happening and has elected to tarnish my reputation and attacked me," claimed Callamard.

In May this year, Duterte's government reportedly lodged a complaint to the UN protesting her visit to the country without prior official notification.

Another panellist, human rights activist Dr Edna Aquino, said the country's civil society did not expect the dire situation in the Philippines to improve anytime soon and expected the struggle to root out extrajudicial killings to be long and fraught with difficulties.

"We know we are in for a long haul," said the long-time activist.

-- BERNAMA