Children in the crosshairs
Another day, another child killed, in what police and the military routinely describe as legitimate operations.
Last week, Johndy Maglinte, 16, and a companion, Antonio Dalit, were shot dead after police said they fought back when authorities were serving their arrest warrants in an anti-drug operation in Biñan City, Laguna. But Maglinte’s mother and family are disputing this account, backed up by witnesses who said they saw Maglinte begging for his life when he was shot. The boy’s body was found lying face down with his hands cuffed behind, recalling the way 17-year-old Kian delos Santos was summarily killed by cops in 2017.
Citing the statement of Maglinte’s live-in partner, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said the police had shot Dalit, who was the original target of the raid, but that Maglinte had witnessed the killing and was therefore eliminated.
On June 15, another minor lost her life in what the military claimed was an encounter with communist rebels in Lianga, Surigao del Sur. Three members of the Manobo tribe have provided a different story:
Angel Rivas, 12, along with Willy Rodriguez and older sister Lenie, were fired upon by soldiers while they were harvesting abaca; the victims were carrying only farm implements and not firearms or explosives as alleged by the military, the Manobos said.
Brig. Gen. Allan Hambala, commander of the Army’s 401st Infantry Brigade, meanwhile said that thick jungle foliage prevented soldiers from seeing that there was a minor among the group of suspected rebels who, he claimed, started firing at them. It was only after the clash, when soldiers searched the area, that they found the minor. Some quarters allege that the minor had also been raped.
The Philippine National Police has admitted “operational lapses” in the Laguna raid, but that didn’t stop PNP chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar from taking at face value the police’s “nanlaban” narrative. “If you’re on the brink of death, you don’t need to know if it’s a child or an adult who’s threatening your life,” he said in a TV interview Sunday. The killing of minors was “sad and maddening,” he added, “but there are criminals who use children in their operations.”
Eleazar quickly placed the 10 Laguna police officers involved in the operation under restrictive custody, but his early defense of his men’s actions, without benefit of any formal investigation, will only prevent more witnesses from coming forward, and provides scant comfort to the victims’ families. The PNP and the CHR have vowed to investigate the case, and even Unicef, alarmed at the number of Filipino children getting killed in state operations, has urged a thorough probe. So far, only one EJK case—that of Delos Santos, which was fortunately caught on video—has led to the conviction of the police officers involved, out of at least 122 cases of minors who have died in the course of the administration’s “war on drugs.”
That figure comes from the report of the World Organization Against Torture, which examined child deaths in the Philippines between July 2016 and December 2019. According to the report, police were responsible for over half of the killings documented, while the other half involved unknown assassins who went on their deadly sprees in masks or hoods. The report also said some of the children were deliberately killed, with police potentially targeting those who had witnessed another killing, or claiming that they had acted in self-defense. In other cases, children were killed as proxies when the real targets could not be found, or were hit by stray bullets as police fired indiscriminately within the narrow confines of the suspect’s home.
A case in point was the killing of three-year-old Myka Ulpina in June 2019; police claimed she was used as a shield by her father in a drug operation in Rizal. Told of the child’s death, Sen. Bato dela Rosa, who served as police chief and enforcer of President Duterte’s anti-drug campaign, shrugged off Ulpina’s death. “Shit happens during operations,” he said. President Duterte has also dismissed the shocking record of children’s deaths as “collateral damage.”
Such callousness and insouciance toward the slaying of minors by police and the military are in sharp contrast to the moral indignation and breast-beating the government demonstrated recently, when FEU football player Kieth Absalon and his cousin were killed in a landmine explosion that the communist New People’s Army eventually owned up to. Government officials and law enforcers expressed rage, vowed to seek justice, demanded the surrender of the guilty parties, and called for accountability in the condemnable deaths caused by the rebels—sentiments that were starkly absent once the killings swung once again to innocent minors caught in the grip of state-perpetrated violence.
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