WATCH: Nung 17 ako…

Aika Rey
WATCH: Nung 17 ako…
Kian delos Santos was only 17 years old when he was killed in a police operation. How many more young lives will be cut short in the war on drugs?

MANILA, Philippines – What were you doing when you were 17?

On the night of August 16, Grade 11 student Kian delos Santos was killed in what the police called a “shooting encounter.”

He was 17.

His death sparked outrage, prompting various groups and individuals to stage protests in parts of the country. (READ: Schedule of protests vs Kian delos Santos killing)

On Monday, August 21, Rappler interviewed protesters at the People Power Monument in Quezon City to know what their lives were like when they were 17.

‘Just a student’

“Nung 17 ako (When I was 17), I was in second year college,” said Shahma Bulangi, co-convenor of Youth Resist. At 17, Bulangi said she was still unsure of what she was passionate about.

Luis Enriquez, 21, a student from Ateneo de Manila University, felt the same.

“Nung 17 ako, estudyante ako sa high school tapos iniisip ko lang ‘yung gustong gawin pagkatapos kong mag-aral sa college,” he said. (When I was 17, I was a high school student and I was still thinking about what I want to do after college.)

Meanwhile, PJ Punla, 35, said she was enjoying her youth then. “I had just fallen in love. I discovered what it was like to read the things I want, to sing the songs I want to sing, to watch the TV shows I wanted to watch,” she said.

Bulangi said experiences such as these are what the police took away from Delos Santos when he was gunned down. (READ: LIST: Minors, college students killed in Duterte’s drug war)

“He was set on what he wanted to do. He wanted to be a policeman. What’s sad about it is that the police were the ones who killed him and his dreams,” she said.

‘Anyone could be Kian’

Those Rappler talked to at the rally said the spate of killings in the past months has left them fearful.

“Ngayon nagdadalawang-isip ako magpagabi sa kalsada dahil hindi ko alam kung may sumusunod na sa ‘kin. Baka mapabilang na ako sa quota ng kapulisan,” said Meanne Manahan of Focus on the Global South. (READ: Where the drug war began)

(Now, I have second thoughts about being out at night because I don’t know if somebody’s already following me. I might become part of the police’s quota.)

Jun Santos of Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa criticized what he described as the apparent disregard for the rule of law in the conduct of the anti-drug campaign. (READ: The Drug War: Legendary)

“Dahil sa nangyari kay Kian at sa iba pang nagiging biktima na kung tawagin nila ay ‘collateral damage’ lamang pakiramdam namin hindi na ligtas ngayon,” he said.

(Because of what happened to Kian and to others who were victims of what they call “collateral damage,” we feel that it’s not safe anymore.)

“Kahit sino, kahit saan, kahit anong oras ay maari po tayong mabiktima ng mga pangyayaring ito,” he added. (Anyone, anywhere, anytime, we can be victims of these incidents.)

Tipping point

Delos Santos’ death has fueled criticism of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, which has killed thousands since he took office on June 30, 2016.

According to Karla Yu of the Millennials Against Dictators, the death of the 17-year-old is the “tipping point” for many Filipinos.

Actor Dennis Corteza said he condemns the killings and is scared for the youth who may be tagged as “drug runners” without evidence.

“Kahit saan ngayon, kahit pulis puwede silang patayin na walang pakundangan. Nag-aapoy ang aking damdamin,” he said. (Anywhere they go, they can be killed with impunity, even by police. I feel strongly about this.)

Delos Santos was among the 81 dead in “one-time, big-time” anti-drug operations recently conducted by police in parts of Metro Manila and Bulacan. Duterte had praised the deadly drug raids, saying “maganda ‘yun (that’s good).”

In Delos Santos’ case, however, the President promised that the cops involved will “rot in jail” if the investigation proves he was murdered.

How many more young lives will be cut short in the war on drugs? – with reports from Iona Mendoza and Alecs Ongcal / Rappler.com

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Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at aika.rey@rappler.com.