A four-person team — myself and Linda Harris from the Communist League Australia, Janet Roth from the CL in New Zealand and Philippe Tessier, Communist League candidate for mayor of Montreal — learned about this fight during a trip here in mid-September.
Popular support for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, elected last year, has been bolstered by an expansion of the Philippine economy — a product of a recent investment boom. Many working people also support action against widespread drug traffic and violence on the streets, and have been drawn behind Duterte’s murderous “war on drugs and crime.”
Delos Santos was one of 82 people killed by Manila-area cops Aug. 16 in one of the authorities so-called anti-drug operations, this one called the “one time, big time” initiative. Large protests led by family members erupted after surveillance camera video and eyewitness reports showed delos Santos was dragged across a schoolyard by cops Jerwin Cruz, Jeremias Pereda and Arnel Oares and shot three times while he knelt in front of them. This blew apart the cops’ lie that he died in a “gun-battle.”
The cold-blooded killing galvanized broader opposition to the regime’s cop and vigilante killings.
The outrage was so widespread that Duterte had to order the arrest of the cops, who were charged with murder. A public Senate inquiry into the killing was launched. “You are not allowed to kill a person that is kneeling down begging for his life,” Duterte said. “That is murder.”
“I used to believe in Duterte’s promise to end crime,” 20-year-old college student Michael Alberto Darang told the Sydney Morning Herald at delos Santos’ funeral Aug. 27. “But I never wanted deaths for the innocent. Stop these killings. Instead, arrest drug lords and others.”
We were in the Philippines to visit the Polytechnic University of the Philippines at the invitation of the Circle of Young Socialists and PUP SPEAK — Students Party for Equality and Advancement of Knowledge — a student group that won last year’s student council elections.
“As many as 5,000 went to the wake and funeral for Kian, including people from many organizations,” Elijah San Fernando, a leader of CYS and chair of PUP SPEAK, told the Militant. He said students at the university mobilized for weeks in demonstrations against cop abuse and murders.
“Duterte is protecting the drug lords,” Fernando said. “Many Filipino politicians try to excuse the extrajudicial killings of teenagers and even children as ‘collateral damage.’”
The government admits to 3,450 deaths from “gun battles,” which the cops call “nanlaban,” meaning self-defense, since Duterte’s election.
“The drug menace is real,” Fernando said, but more people are now rejecting the “bloody anti-drug campaign of Duterte.” Drug use is “a public health problem. No jobs, low wages, the difficulty in getting access to public services — the system itself is the problem.”
In an effort to defuse the mounting protests and public revulsion, the police command announced Sept. 15 that the entire cop force at Caloocan, with the exception of the newly installed chief and his deputy, would be reassigned and retrained.
Students snapped up copies of the Militant and books by leaders of the Socialist Workers Party when we set up literature tables at the university, with assistance from CYS and PUP SPEAK activists. Many wanted to discuss U.S. and world politics, the Cuban Revolution and women’s liberation. This was one reflection of the openings in the Philippines for working-class fighters and youth to reach new people with communist ideas.
Workers face slum conditions
Circle of Young Socialists members also took us to a poor, working-class area in Malabon, in the north of Manila Sept. 14. Emily Cano, organizer of the Ang Bagong Bahay Housing Cooperative, and others from the neighborhood welcomed us with a “boodle fight” — a meal of rice, fish, chicken and vegetables laid out on banana-leaf-covered tables. Afterwards they took us on a tour of the area — small houses jammed together along narrow alleyways with an open drain in the middle.
Cano had been a domestic worker in Abu Dhabi in the 1980s. For the past 15 years, she has led community protests by coop members demanding the government build decent housing to replace the slums.
She and others showed us where the water levels reached during flooding after a recent typhoon. They receive no aid from the municipality to repair flood damage, which occurs regularly. We saw volunteer community workers rebuilding a washed-out bamboo bridge across the canal.
They showed us houses gutted from fires caused by electrical faults. Many working people in the poorer areas are “forced to tap into the water and power supplies illegally just to live,” Cano said.
“Street crime is a problem,” she said, explaining how gangs roam the area, committing robberies and rape. Comments by community members we met, as well as signs on some of their doors, made it clear that these conditions have led people to support Duterte’s campaign to “clean up the streets.”
“Almost every night, people find bodies by the canal or roadway, shot in the head execution-style,” Cano said. “Two mayors who were opposed to Duterte were murdered.”
Protest marks 5 years since cops killed Mohamed Bah
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