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Kin of victims of Philippine killings file court cases

Families target alleged police and vigilante 'executioners' from govt's anti-drug war

Kin of victims of Philippine killings file court cases

Families of victims of drug-related killings in the Philippines gather outside the Office of the Ombudsman in Manila before the filing of cases against suspected perpetrators of the spate of summary executions in the country. (Photo by Maria Tan)

Joe Torres, Manila
Philippines

March 14, 2017

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Families of drug-related killing victims in the Philippines filed charges in court on March 14 against alleged perpetrators of summary executions and police operations.

"We pray the courts will act with haste and show themselves as reliable places for obtaining justice," said Carmelite Father Gilbert Billena.

The priest leads Rise Up for Life and for Rights, a faith-based group that has been helping families of victims of so-called extra-judicial killings related to the government's anti-narcotics war.

Close to 8,000 suspected drug users and dealers have died in the past eight months either at the hands of anti-narcotics police or self-styled vigilante hitmen.

"We will never forget the killing of our children," said Emily Soriano, mother of 15-year-old Angelito who was killed in Bagong Silang, in Manila on Dec. 28.

"We are poor but we dream of a complete and happy family," said Soriano outside the Office of the Ombudsman in Manila where the families filed criminal and administrative complaints against policemen who were tagged for the killings.

Lawyer Maria Kristina Conti of the National Union of People's Lawyers (NUPL) said the filing of the charges "is just the beginning."

The lawyers' group is set to file other cases in coordination with church and community-based organizations in coming days.

"Accountability from government forces must always be sought every time news of killings is heard," said Conti, secretary-general of the NUPL.   

She said, "expectation of immunity of those involved in the killings and human rights violations must be stripped away."

On March 10, the NUPL announced its cooperation with Rise Up and the National Council of Churches in the Philippines in launching legal actions to address the spate of killings and human rights abuses in recent months.

Father Billena said families working with his organization "have been ignited with courage and wish to access every possible avenue for obtaining justice for their loved ones."

"They are determined to do something about the drug-related killings that have devastated their families," said the priest.

Father Billena noted that most victims lived in urban poor communities.  

"We are sad that too often government acts against the interests of the poor and the marginalized," said the priest.

Last week, a survivor of an alleged execution-style killing of drug suspects also filed murder charges against policemen in Quezon City before the Office of the Ombudsman.

The charges stem from a police operation in August last year when policemen shot four men "execution-style." While three victims died, Efren Morillo was able to escape.

"We were playing pool but we were arrested and forced to admit that we owned a plastic sachet with a white substance inside that [the policemen] were holding," Morillo said in his complaint.

The policemen claimed that they shot the victims in self-defense.

The filing of charges against policemen came in the wake of the revival of the government's intensified fight against illegal drugs.

The Philippine National Police "re-launched" its anti-narcotics war early this month, with the country's police chief vowing it would be "less bloody, if not bloodless."

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