Duterte’s violent drug war leaves children traumatized – HRW

Jodesz Gavilan
(UPDATED) The 'harmful consequences' of the anti-drug campaign go beyond bloody raids, says Human Rights Watch. Children who lose a loved one are left deeply scarred.

Graphic by Alejandro Endoria/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Rodrigo Duterte’s violent anti-drug campaign has lasting effects on thousands of children already suffering from the death of their loved one, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.

According to HRW’s latest report released on Wednesday, May 27, children are left with physical, emotional, and economic issues, impairing the “normal” lives they once lived.  

These long-lasting effects prove that the war on drugs does not end with the bloodied bodies on the streets, HRW Philippines researcher Carlos Conde said in the report “Our Happy Family Is Gone”: Impact of the “War on Drugs.”

“The harmful consequences for children of Duterte’s anti-drug campaign go beyond the immediate violence of the raids,” Conde said.

“This drug war created a generation of Filipinos scarred, probably forever,” he said during a press conference on Wednesday. “I can’t even begin to imagine how this can impact their lives 5, 10 years from now and how this madness will affect their lives.”

Duterte’s anti-drug campaign is widely criticized for its high number of deaths. Data show more than 6,000 suspected drug personalities were killed in police operations, while human rights groups peg the number at almost 27,000 to include those killed vigilante-style. (READ: The Impunity Series)

Victims also include minors and college students.

‘Does not smile anymore’

The report, which documented the impact of 23 deaths on families, showed that children suffer from psychological distress brought about by the tragic incidents.

Drastic changes were seen in children who witnessed their loved ones killed, including a change in behavior and how they interact with people around them. There are also children who dropped out of school due to massive bullying and stigmatization.

Karla*, who saw her father gunned down in December 2016, lamented that their “happy family is gone.”

“I was there when it happened, when my papa was shot. I saw everything, how my papa was shot,” she told HRW. “We don’t have anyone to call father now. We want to be with him, but we can’t anymore.”

Her brother John*, who was their father’s favorite, does not smile anymore and “easily gets angry now.” He also “lost trust in people.”

Zeny*, one of the adults interviewed for the report, told HRW that her son’s demeanor “drastically changed” after his father died. The body of Zeny’s husband was found with 19 stab wounds in Tondo, Manila, with his head wrapped in packaging tape. 

According to Zeny, her son once threatened to kill and wrap a friend’s head with packaging tape, too. He also often takes his anger out on his mother. 

“I fear [what will happen] when he grows up [because] he becomes so violent,” Zeny said. “He might turn out like the other kids who have gone astray or might be jailed. That’s what I fear.”

Left to head the family

Aside from emotional strain, drug war deaths have pushed already impoverished families further into poverty. 

Most of the victims, after all, are from low-income communities. (READ: War against drugs or war against poverty?)

“Many children are left with no choice but to work, and some end up homeless and living in the streets, further exposing themselves to danger, violence, and criminal activity,” HRW said in its report.

STOP. Human rights groups call for justice for killings under President Rodrigo Duterte. File photo by Jire Carreon/Rappler

Robert*, the eldest of 3 siblings, assumed the role of a breadwinner when his father Renato was killed in December 2016. Since their father’s death and mother’s remarrying, the 3 children stopped going to school and resorted to taking odd jobs to make ends meet. 

“I had to work harder when my father died. I became a father to my siblings because I don’t want to see them suffer…so I’m doing everything I can,” Renato was quoted as saying in the report. “I force myself to work even if I don’t want to. I force myself for me, for my siblings.”

Renato and his siblings now call a marketplace home, sleeping on cardboard mats, mostly when they cannot find a kind relative or friend to spend the night with. 

“We sleep there until morning and then when we wake up, we transfer to the parking lot,” he said.

No help from gov’t

HRW highlighted the lack of government assistance for children left behind by victims of the bloody drug war. These children are also afraid of seeking help due to emotional stress brought about by law enforcement agencies.

“The Philippine government, apart from its refusal to effectively and impartially investigate the killings and its policy of detaining children in conflict with the law, has done little to address the needs of children directly affected by the anti-drug campaign,” HRW said in its report.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development does not have a “specific program directly aimed at addressing the needs of children affected,” added the human rights group.

“Government agencies should address the dire needs of children whose breadwinner has been killed, especially those living in impoverished communities across the Philippines where the killings typically take place, and ensure the government adopts measures to protect affected children from abuse,” HRW said. 

Aside from assistance, HRW called on the Duterte government to end the violent drug war and cooperate with independent bodies to investigate the thousands of deaths, both from police operations and vigilante-style killings.  

It also urged the Commission on Human Rights to investigate and pressure government agencies to abide by existing laws, for the United Nations to “strongly advocate” against the drug war, and for the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to establish an “international independent investigative mechanism” into the killings.

“[The UNHRC and its member-states] have both the responsibility and mandate to hold accountable the perpetrators and give justice to victims,” HRW UN deputy director Laila Matar said. “They owe it to the children who’ve been affected by the drug war.” – Rappler.com

*The Human Rights Watch report only provided the first names of the interviewees.

Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.