Poster boys of impunity
Their names read like a mournful litany. Kian, Carl and ‘Kulot’ were three young men whose time on this earth was cut short when they were somehow trapped in the chaos, confusion and cruelty of the government’s anti-illegal drugs war.
A year has passed since the three young men were taken in the course of the Caloocan police’s “One Time Big Time” drive, meant to display a show of force against drug operations in the city.
Were it not for a news video showing Kian delos Santos being picked up by the police and then being led away from onlookers, few people would have been aware of his passing. But photos of Kian’s remains, sprawled atop a pile of garbage, brought home the painful end that awaited the schoolboy. Responding to arresting officers, Kian made a heartbreaking plea: “Please let me go, I have an exam tomorrow.” At once, he came to symbolize the innocence of youth and the indifference of law enforcers.
A day later, Carl Arnaiz’s body was found abandoned in an empty lot in Caloocan. Police presented a taxi driver who they said had fled from an armed hold-up attempt by Arnaiz and his younger companion Reynaldo “Kulot” de Guzman. The police said the 19-year old Arnaiz had tried to shoot it out with them. But the driver, not much later, retracted the claim of a hold-up and said he saw the police executing Arnaiz.
Kulot’s body turned up days later in a creek in Nueva Ecija, his head, said a news report, “wrapped in packing tape and his body bearing more than 20 stab wounds.”
But that wasn’t the end of the story of the three young victims of the drug war.
In the wake of the public outcry over their deaths, a “self-cleansing” of practically the entire Caloocan police force was conducted. But today, a year later, most of the officers involved in the operation have returned to active duty, with the four top officials who’d been cleared of command responsibility even promoted to higher positions. Only five officers have been jailed and indicted in connection with the deaths of the three youths.
In the ensuing year, the families of the three young men have sought protection from the government as part of the Witness Protection Program. As such, they remain in hiding and are cut off from the rest of the world—a reversal of the situation that should have befallen all those police, especially the commanders, responsible for their sons’ deaths. Kian’s mother Lorenza, in an interview, related that, these days, their only connection to the outside world has been their attendance at hearings into the culpability of the accused police—who can be found just a few seats away from them.
“These policemen think we have ruined their lives,” said an uncle of Kian. “They’re wrong, they ruined ours. Life will never be normal for us again.”
A year after Kian, Carl and Kulot disappeared from this earth, their family, friends and schoolmates are left still asking questions, still wondering how they can assuage their grief and assure the three a peaceful afterlife.
Meanwhile, President Duterte, whose antidrug war remains a centerpiece of his administration, has admitted, in the course of his meandering lamentations over his desire to step down from office, that the campaign against drugs—which, says Human Rights Watch, has killed 12,000 Filipinos—has been a dismal failure.
What comfort, if any, does this admission bring to all who mourn the killings of Kian, Carl and Kulot? Certainly, it will not bring them back to life, nor will it resurrect all the other victims, including the other children who died either as “collateral damage” or deliberate targets. Indeed, it may even rub salt on the raw and still smarting wounds left by this ill-conceived and -carried-out campaign.
Perhaps one positive result could be convincing voters never to take a candidate’s reckless and grandiose claims to heart. And never to cheer on any policy that involves the killing of so many innocents, such as Kian, Carl and Kulot, the poster boys of state impunity.
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