Chris van Laak／當2萬人死於杜特蒂的「掃毒戰」，菲律賓民眾醒了嗎？
While the war on drugs has left tens of thousands dead on the Philippines, a group of freelancing journalists and photographers has brought international attention to the government's shameful conduct.
Ezra Acayan and Kimberly de la Cruz have been working as news photographers for years, but only after a new government, with its charismatic President Rodrigo Duterte has declared a War on Drugs in 2016, their work has contributed to putting extrajudicial killings of alleged drug pushers on the radar of international human rights watchdogs. After 20,000 to 27,000 people have been killed and the public opinion is slowly shifting as well.
Q: Do the Philippines have a drug problem?
Kimberly de la Cruz: We have always had a drug problem, but it hasn't been as big as it is today. Most drugs are coming in from overseas and corruption in customs and the police foster the problem. Our president on the other hand speaks of 3 to 4 million drug users, a number which is disputed as too high even by the “Philippines Dangerous Drug Board”. Duterte speaks of hideous crimes committed by drug users, but this is blown way out proportion to blame everything on drugs.
Ezra Acayan: Drugs are a poverty related issue on the Philippines. The most popular drug is Shabu, Methamphetamin, and people take it because it gives them energy to work for long hours, maybe even for days straight. It is very cheap, and some people who use it also sell it. The policy of our Government is to kill those people, but they don't do anything against the ones who supply on larger scale, the ones who import the drugs, mostly from China.
Q: How did the drug war start?
KdlC: There is a history of campaigns against drug use since around 1999. But the original concept was "Jail the pusher – help the user". That was apparently not effective and changed a lot with Rodrigo Duterte becoming President in 2016.
EA: The campaign of killings started right after the election, and I started covering them 2 weeks into his presidency. At the that time, in some nights 20 people were killed in Manilla alone. Duterte was elected promising to get rid of drugs and crime, as he had been doing it in Davao, in the south of the Philippines, where he had been city mayor. There he had implemented the policy of having petty criminals killed without due process and he promised to do it this style nationwide.
Q: Why are those petty criminals, or the poor and uneducated in general, the target of the drug war?
EA: Duterte has basically dehumanized petty criminals, which are mostly from poor communities. This made things acceptable to the middle class. In part it is also the media's fault. Before Duterte was elected, the media sensationalized crime, and people saw reports about petty crime all day. Many people started seeing those poor people as monsters that must be killed.
KdlC: Many people justify the Drug War, because now it is supposed to be safer on the streets, and indeed since 2016/17, the rates of petty crimes have dropped. But that's just the case because people are afraid to be out on the streets because they might get shot. The government has also failed to acknowledge that there are different kinds of drug use, different reasons for people to use drugs. Poor people who use drugs, are often not involved in any other crime. But now everybody who has a history of drug use, even if it was ten years ago, they surrendered themselves to the police because they are afraid of getting shot. Unfortunately there has always been a culture of impunity in the Philippines. Still, I am surprised by the high approval ratings of Duterte and approval ratings of his drug policies, also among the poor. According to independent media, like for example Rappler, he still has approval ratings of up to 85%.
EA: The public opinion is shifting very slowly, if at all. I talked to many families of people who got killed, and until they lost a loved one, they supported Duterte.
KdlC: I'm also trying to understand that. For example, most taxi drivers I rode with are ok with the situation. When talking to them about this I highlight that people are dying on the street every day and that they themselves could be next. And I tell them about reports that Methamphetamines worth billions of PHP have been found in our customs while no one gets prosecuted. I think a problem here is that people don't trust the media anymore, or rather trust the sources that repeats what they already believe.
KdlC: At first I was optimistic that our reporting could reach the people. Many journalists documenting the Drug War started their work believing that our society is just sleeping, but then we collectively just never woke up. Our culture is very individualistic and there is a lot of apathy. Many people just don't care that our society is broken. The Philippines are divided in terms of culture and geography, the level of inequality is high as well. There is also a barrier of language. While most quality media writes and speaks in English, many people cannot relate to that. I personally think we need to disseminate our news more and in different languages. But then, in social media we are all lost in algorithms.
EA: We've been gathering evidence of the Drug war nonstop for 3 years now. Nobody in the Philippines has an excuse for not knowing what's happening. On the other hand people have become numb and in the poor communities people have accepted it as a way of life. At night maybe one or two people are killed in a neighborhood and on the next day people cope with it by joking about it.
Q: Who kills these people at night?
EA: It's the police. Sometimes in uniforms, sometimes secretly, but it can always be traced back to the police.
Q: How do you cover the killings?
EA: Especially at the beginning it was the police that invited us in, being pretty proud of what they did. After there was negative reaction from the international community, things were kept more secret. So nowadays we rely on citizens, social media and especially funeral parlors, that get informed first if there is a crime scene.
KdlC: In fall 2016 we also started going to the wakes of people who had been killed. We wondered who is there to mourn and bury the body, who will feed the kids who have lost a parent. Later I shifted my focus on the justice system and cover hearings of people who complained that family members have been killed. In many cases there is frustratingly little to report because the justice system is not moving forward.
庫茲：過去，我也曾經向警方調閱相關資料，但幾乎沒成功。某一次警察局長還指控我的報導「危害國家」。在杜特蒂上任後，參議院、或是國會中都鮮少有反對派的身影，這是很嚴重的問題。我從來沒想過有一天我會看到致力於對抗掃毒戰的參議員、同時也是人權委員會和司法部部長的蕾拉．德．利馬（Leila de Lima）入獄，她已經在獄中兩年了，被指控的罪名是「收取毒梟賄賂」。這真的瘋了。
Q: How is the situation for journalists, working in an environment with a government that wants to spin stories in their favor?
EA: In the capital, in Manilla, it is still relatively safe. As soon as you leave the capital, it gets very dangerous for journalists. I have many colleagues, who would like to work on the killings in the provinces, in their hometowns, but that is nearly impossible. In smaller towns everyone knows each other and if somebody is getting too smart, somebody will do something against it. The few journalists who have done this kind of reporting anyway, got killed. And on the larger level you can see what happens to the media that keeps on reporting critically. Maria Ressa, director of Rappler, one of the few critical media outlets, gets arrested again and again and has to respond to all kind of (fabricated) warrants, concerning everything, from accusations of tax evasion to libel.
KdlC: In the past, I had asked for data on the killings from the police with little success. Once I was told by a general that my reporting is “detrimental to the country”. A big problem is that there is very little opposition within government institutions such as the Senate or the Congress. This is how it has become after Duterte became president. I would never have thought that I will see the day that senator Leila de Lima, former head of the Comission on Human Rights and Department of Justice who fought against the drug war, will find herself in jail. And now she has been there for two years, allegedly having taken money from drug lords. That is crazy.
Q: At the same time both of you receive a lot of recognition for your work, your photos are to be seen in prestigious international publications and you, Ezra, have recently been awarded by the World Press Photo Agency. Does the international recognition also spill over to your own country and can that lead to significant change?
EA: The United Nations investigation into the killings and the impunity for the killers that has started just in July this year is at least going forward now. And that is happening also thanks to anyone who got the word out, who showed the world what is happening in the Philippines.
KdlC: There is still little support for the families of victims and the killings continue. The Drug War was already stopped twice, but then it was launched again, harsher than ever. I think it is not over until there is justice. This is how I approach this as a journalist. I don't want to hope too much, but my desire for justice is stronger. I think the killing will only stop if justice is served, if policemen find out that they could actually go to jail for killing someone. Some of them still thinks that they are doing it right.
© 2019 All rights Reserved