For many of the poorest Filipinos, especially in densely populated Manila, 2017 was a year of death and mourning as assassins went on the rampage, hunting suspected drug users and dealers. The government itself admitted that it is currently investigating 16,355 "homicide cases" that may be related to its war on drugs. Human rights groups said this number could be much higher because government year end data only covered from July 1, 2016, when President Rodrigo Duterte came to power, to Sept. 30, 2017. Rights activists have labeled the deaths "extrajudicial killings" and accused Duterte, who has been rabid in his drug war rhetoric, of emboldening the killers. The presidential palace has described the government's anti-drug war
as "hugely successful," with spokesman Harry Roque saying it has resulted in "safer communities."
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Despite allegations of human rights abuses and condemnations issued by church leaders, Duterte's anti-drug crackdown remains popular among Filipinos. A survey by independent pollster Pulse Asia reported that eight out of every 10 Filipinos or 88 percent support the campaign. And even as prominent Catholic and Protestant church leaders, mostly in Manila, have issued statements of condemnation, members of the clergy in the provinces seemed to have been reluctant in commenting on the drugs war. There are those who said that although they do not agree how state security forces implement the anti-narcotics war, they support the president's campaign to rid the country of the drug menace. Meanwhile, death continues to haunt people in slums and poor communities. It was a year of living dangerously for the poor, many of whom flock to the cities in search of opportunities to survive. Back in the provinces, continuing military operations aimed at defeating an almost five-decade communist-led insurgency have also displaced and killed civilians, according to human rights groups. Karapatan
, a rights group, reported that since the declaration of martial law
in the southern region of Mindanao on May 23, at least 29 people have fallen victim to "extrajudicial killings." Many were reportedly members of local peasant and tribal groups targeted by state forces for alleged links to the communist underground movement. Karapatan also documented 15 cases of torture, 23 victims of attempted killings, 58 victims of illegal arrest and detention, and 335,686 victims of indiscriminate gunfire and aerial bombings. The martial law declaration came on the heels of an attack by Islamic State-inspired gunmen, who occupied the city of Marawi in Mindanao for five months. The ensuing conflict killed at least 1,000 people and displaced about 400,000 others. At the end of 2017, two strong typhoons devastated the central and southern part of the country, resulting in hundreds of deaths, destruction of homes and farms, and a delay in the implementation of government infrastructure projects. The calamities that were brought about by changing weather patterns could not have been avoided, but man-made disasters caused by conflict could have been addressed if all parties were serious in pressing for peaceful solutions. There were many proposals and counter-proposals from various sectors. There were possible solutions raised. Filipinos were not short of opinions on how to make things right, except that most think that what they came up with were the only right answer. Unfortunately, after all the talk and all the pronouncements by politicians, civil society leaders, and even church officials, people continue to end up dead. Every night, young men and women suspected to be high on illegal drugs, or suspected to have links with rebels were found dead instead of being brought to rehabilitation centers or to courts. Consoling families of the victims of the killings, Bishop Virgilio Pablo David of Kalookan assured that while there is life there is hope. "It really hurts to be a victim," he said. "It hurts more to continue to be a victim." The prelate's optimism will hopefully not fall on deaf ears. In the coming year, Filipinos need not be deprived of hope in humanity and maybe not go through another year of living dangerously. Joe Torres is national reporter of ucanews.com in Manila.