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Fear and defiance for the families of the Philippine drug war dead

#Fear #defiance #families #Philippine #drug #war #dead

Six years after four police officers broke into their Manila slum shack and shot dead their husband and teenage son, Mary Ann Bonifacio fears for her own life as she fights for justice.

Bonifacio is pursuing the men in court hoping to prove they unlawfully killed loved ones — a rare example of officers tasked with conducting Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war facing a court.

Official data shows that more than 6,200 people have died in police anti-drug operations since Duterte came to power in 2016 and vowed to rid the country of drugs.

But rights groups estimate tens of thousands of mostly poor men have been killed by officers and vigilantes, even without evidence linking them to drugs.

While the crackdown was widely condemned and sparked an international investigation, only three police officers have been convicted for the murder of a drug suspect.

Lawyers say most families are too scared to go after their relative’s killers or don’t have the money or time to pursue a case in the Philippines’ creaking justice system.

For Bonifacio, who has five other children, the decision to pursue legal action meant giving up a normal life.

Fearing that the bail officials or her supporters would go after her and her family, Bonifacio has moved several times and is always looking over her shoulder.

“There is a possibility of being killed,” she said, appearing to be older than her 48 years.

Bonifacio, who does laundry and cleans houses to make ends meet, added: “I also have to think about the safety of my children.”

She filed a criminal complaint for murder in 2017, insisting her husband Luis, an unemployed decorator, and their son Gabriel, a waiter, were not involved in drugs and were unarmed when police opened fire.

But it took the Ombudsman four years to bring the lesser charge of manslaughter against the officers, after finding their actions “went beyond a reputation for (self) preservation”.

Officers said they acted in “self-defense” after the men shot them and have asked the court to drop the case for lack of evidence.

For reasons of space, Bonifacio sits next to the accused murderers in court. The men are scheduled to testify on August 9th.

“I don’t wish them death. I want to make them realize what they did was wrong and make sure they don’t do it to other people again,” Bonifacio said.

But access to evidence from the police, the same institution that prosecutes the drug war, is a major obstacle, Bonifacio’s attorney Kristina Conti said.

“For these types of crimes, accountability cannot simply fall on the victims or survivors,” Conti added.

Raquel Fortun, one of only two forensic pathologists in the Philippines, has been working with a Catholic priest and families to collect evidence she hopes can be used in court.

She has examined some of the exhumed remains of drug war victims whose bodies are removed from makeshift grave sites and cremated.

Their findings cast doubt on the most common police claim that suspects “put themselves back.”

“I see some cases where you have gunshot wounds in the wrists, in the forearms, in the hands, and those are what we would normally call defensive injuries,” she told AFP.

“That’s how instinctively that person must have had an arm, a hand raised. So how could this person have put up a fight?”

– “We will keep fighting” –

At the height of the drug war, Bonifacio said murders were happening almost “every night” in her tough neighborhood.

Her traumatized youngest son, now 13, often wakes up crying from nightmares in which he is being pursued by the police who are trying to kill him.

He turns off the TV when Duterte appears and runs away when he sees an officer.

The family locks their front door from early evening, gets off a bus when a cop-like man gets on, and only makes brief visits to the cemetery in case someone attacks them.

Bonifacio said the police officers who shot her husband and son should have followed “proper procedure” in what authorities described as a drug stabbing operation.

But she also accuses Duterte of ordering them to kill suspects.

“I think he should go to jail, too,” she said.

Duterte, who will lose his protection from prosecution if he steps down as president on Thursday, openly ordered police to kill drug suspects if officers’ lives were in danger.

He has said he hopes his successor, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., will continue the move that Duterte admits failed to eradicate drugs.

“We continue to suffer from the drug problem. It will not go away because billions of dollars are being lured into human traffickers,” the outgoing chairman said recently.

Duterte has refused to cooperate with an investigation into the actions of the International Criminal Court.

Justice Minister Menardo Guevarra told the United Nations Human Rights Council in March that his office had reviewed around 300 cases of drug warfare operations that resulted in deaths.

So far, five of them have been charged, he told AFP on Thursday.

Bonifacio is determined to continue her own quest for justice, if only to prevent another family from experiencing her pain.

“We will keep fighting,” she said.

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#Fear #defiance #families #Philippine #drug #war #dead

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