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President Marcos Jr. hasn't put an end to killings in the Philippines' drug war


The U.N. estimates that more than 8,000 people have been killed in the Philippines' so-called war on drugs. In 2022, when the current president of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., took office, he vowed to end the killing in the drug crackdown.


PRESIDENT FERDINAND MARCOS JR: It is now geared towards community-based treatment, rehabilitation, education and reintegration.

KELLY: But as NPR's Emily Feng reports, the killing continues.


EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Last fall, Tin started fearing for her husband Chrismel Serioso's life. A police officer had just killed an alleged drug seller who lived near them. So she pulled Serioso aside.

TIN: (Through interpreter) I said, look at this woman who was just killed. This could be you.

FENG: In 2020, her husband had turned himself in to police under a program for drug rehabilitation started by Duterte in exchange for amnesty. But death was still waiting for the 29-year-old, and it struck last October.

TIN: (Through interpreter) CCTV cameras show my husband being dragged into a police Jeep.

FENG: An hour later, Serioso was brought to the hospital, dead on arrival.

TIN: (Through interpreter) The official cause of death was lack of blood due to two gunshot wounds.

FENG: The initial police report said the cop had shot Serioso because he'd been selling drugs, a charge his family denies. The young father had started using shabu again, a mix of methamphetamines and caffeine popular in the Philippines.

TIN: (Through interpreter) But just because you use drugs does not mean you deserve to die.

FENG: He's one of the 342 people killed in drug-related operations in 2023 alone, more than the total killings during Duterte's final year in office, a figure meticulously documented by researchers at the University of Manila, led by this man - Joel Ariate.

JOEL ARIATE: It's utterly untrue. Under the Marcos administration, I mean, the average is from 0.8 to 0.9 killing a day, meaning one Filipino gets killed a day. And in the first quarter of 2024, we've counted 75 killings, and that's for 73 days.

FENG: The Philippines National Police and the Marcos administration did not respond to requests for comment. The police do infrequently release their own data. For example, for all of 2023, the police said about 47,000 people surrendered, were arrested or died in drug operations. But they don't break that figure down. And even Ariate's figures are almost certainly an undercount.


FENG: Which is why in Navotas, a poor city north of Manila with one of the highest concentrations of killings under Duterte, residents still live in fear of death from law enforcement.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Duterte's gone (inaudible), but his influence is still going.

FENG: This man says Duterte's influence continues. His brother and father were shot dead by vigilantes during the early days of Duterte's drug war in 2017. And he says he still sees drug-related killings around Manila, which is why he wanted to remain anonymous.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Because of the vigilante, if you look like using drugs, even you're not using drugs, you still killed. There's no justice.

FENG: That's what happened along this sewage-clogged river in the slum area of Navotas. Residents show me where a 17-year-old boy named Jemboy Baltazar was shot to death by police last August while cleaning his fishing boat. His uncle dragged the body out of the water. That's when his father, Jessie Baltazar, ran over.

JESSIE BALTAZAR: (Through interpreter) I saw my son's body floating in the river, and I cried to the police, I thought you said you only fired warning shots.

FENG: Police later said they'd gotten intel his son was an accomplice to another crime and possibly selling drugs, something a court later found not true. Jemboy's case made national headlines when the six officers involved were fired. One was sentenced to four years in prison. But the family fears the verdict will soon be overturned because the police unit that killed Jemboy were the ones that investigated themselves.


FENG: The Baltazar family and other witnesses are now in hiding. They fear the police officers who killed Jemboy will take revenge on them.


FENG: NPR met them at an undisclosed location. It's peaceful, by the ocean. Sonny Augustilo, Jemboy's childhood best friend who was in the boat with him when he was shot, is hiding here too. He says he does not know what his future holds.

SONNY AUGUSTILO: (Through interpreter) The police are like the gods of Navotas. They can just kill anyone.

FENG: And the cycle of violence continues. Less than a month after Jemboy's funeral, another one of his friends was shot to death. The killers still have not been found. Emily Feng, NPR News, Manila, the Philippines. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.
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