SPECIAL REPORT: At least 29 minors killed in gov't war on drugs, group says

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 21) — The government's war on drugs is relentless and damage in hunting down offenders doesn’t choose an age group.

As the administration zeroes in on drug suspects, data culled from news reports showed children are also paying the price in the brutal purge.

In fact, the bloody war on drugs has killed at least 29 minors as of August 20 -- some as young as four years old and two unborn infants -- according to Children's Rehabilitation Center (CRC), a local nongovernment organization helping children and their families who are victims of violence.

CRC Deputy Director Eilek Manano said most of the victims are from the poorest sectors of society.

"Marami sa kanila ay mula dun sa mga komunidad na matagal nang deprived ng economic opportunities, so ito yung mga pinakamahihirap sa bayan. 'Mahirap pa sa daga,' kung tawagin sa ibang quotations."

[Translation: Many of them are from communities that have long been deprived of economic opportunities, so these are the poorest in the nation. 'Poorer than rats,' some have called them." ]

The latest victim, 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos, was found in his barangay in Caloocan with a gunshot wound to his head.

This caused public outrage, even as lawmakers joined in the investigation on the Grade 11 student's death.

A security camera footage showed Kian dragged by men to an alley. Police said Kian was a drug courier, that he resisted arrest that’s why he was shot.

READ: 17-year-old student gunned down by cops in anti-drug operations

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Since June 2016, five minors were killed in police operations, but the police denied involvement in at least one of the cases. Unidentified men killed 24 others.

Speaking to CNN Philippines, PNP Spokesman Dionardo Carlos assured the police is looking into these cases.

“We are investigating it. Definitely ‘di namin mapapabayaan ‘yan (We won’t let go of this),” he said.

While some of the deaths were minors allegedly involved in illegal drugs, others were victims of stray bullets or operations against family members.

Twenty of these victims were 15-17 years old, six younger than 13.

Nearly half of these deaths took place in Metro Manila, where children as young as 16 were suspected drug pushers or users. Quezon and Caloocan cities had the largest share of deaths, with nine minors killed in these two cities alone.

Manano said this could be caused by the high rate of poverty in Metro Manila, the most densely populated region in the country.

"Talagang pinakamalupit dito sa Metro Manila…Ito kasi yung marami talagang mga urban poor eh," she said.

[Translation: It's the most brutal in Metro Manila. This is where the most urban poor are.]

Based on the CRC database, seven of these minors were killed after family members or neighbors were shot near them.

This includes a girl, aged 12, who was hit near a church in Laguna when unidentified gunmen shot at a target in the same area.

Pregnant women were not spared. At least two women in Caloocan City and Misamis Oriental were killed with seven- and eight-month-old infants on the way.

Right to life, dignified living violated

Manano said the spate of killings in the drug war violates not only the children's right to life, but also their right to dignified living.

"Sa simula pa lang wala nang opportunities na nabibibigay sa kanila. Sa kasalukuyang giyera laban sa droga, pinapatay na sila," she said.

[Translation: They have not had any opportunities given to them from the start. Now with the war on drugs, they are being killed.]

She said killings like these send the signal that children are dispensable.

"Tinatrato sila as if walang silbi ang buhay, walang halaga, walang value kaya madali lang patayin ay okay lang na wala sila," she said.

[Translation: They are treated as if they have no value in this world, no worth. No value so they're easy to kill--- it's okay if they're gone.]

Manano said the killings also create a culture of silence within communities.

"If ikaw ay may isang pamilya na pinatay ang kapamilya mong drug addict, bukod sa ma-stigmatize kayong buong pamilya, walang ibang dadamay sa'yo," said Manano. "Kasi both ways una tingin nila tama yung nangyari or pangalawa, takot sila to say something about it kasi baka sila naman yung sumunod," she said.

[Translation: If you have a family member who has been killed, or if your family member is a drug addict, other than stigmatizing the whole family, no one will help with you. Because both ways, they'll think either what happened was right, or they'll be afraid to say something about it cause they'll follow.]

She added orphans of the drug war must go through intense coping mechanisms to come to terms with their loss.

CRC estimates between 18,000 and 28,000 children were orphaned in the drug war, although it has not confirmed this statistic yet.

Manano said sleepless nights and nightmares are common to these children, who lose parental care and security in addition to the trauma of a loved one's death.

"Sa mga younger kids nagiging expression yan sa mga nightmares...Yung iba naman diyan maaring mag-display ng inappopriate emotions," she said.

[Translation: The children express their trauma through nightmares. The others may display inappropriate emotions]

Without proper processing, the culture of violence may leave deep wounds within the children, she said.

"Eventually, yung culture of violence na nakita nila…possible talaga 'yun na mag-build siya ng anger sa bata, gustuhin niya na maging vengeful siya, na maghiganti sa mga gumawa nun sa kanya," she said.

[Translation: Eventually the culture of violence they've witnessed… it may build anger within the child, he or she might be vengeful and seek revenge on those who did this to him or here.]

Addressing children's needs

Manano said amid the fear sowed by the drug war, children need proper psychosocial help.

She said, however, how the children cope with the killings is affected by how their needs are addressed.

"May malaking dapat trabahuhin sa pagtulong sa kanila kasi if not more or less papasok sila sa negative coping, and it's either mag-revenge or live a violent life or eventually mag-abuse rin ng substance. Kaya dapat ngayon pa lang matulungan na sila psychosocially."

[Translation: There's a lot of work involved in helping them, because if not they will enter negative coping and either go for revenge or live a violent life, or eventually turn to substance abuse. That's why we need to help them psychosocially now.]

This will depend on both internal and the external support available to them, Manano said.

The administration's drug war has killed 3,400 people according to government statistics, although local and international groups have pegged the number at around 9,000.

In his State of the Nation Address, President Rodrigo Duterte said the drug war—which was a campaign promise-- would remain for the rest of his term. He even said he wanted to end drugs for the sake of the next generation.

On August 18 following the death of at least 69 people in three-day drug operations, National Police Chief Ronald dela Rosa defended his men, saying the hundreds of persons arrested proved the police do not kill suspects unless they pose as threats.

He said the police will continue the fight against drugs despite criticism, but clarified neither he nor the President ordered killings in the relentless campaign.

"Ang instruction ni Pangulo is very clear naman: Continue the war on drugs. Wala siyang specific instruction na 'pumatay kayo ng marami.' Ako rin walang instruction sa mga pulis na 'mas maraming mamatay mas masaya ako.' Ang instruction ko sa kanila is paigtingin yung kampanya ninyo sa droga," he said.

[Translation: The president did not give a specific instruction to kill many. I also did not say that I will be happier if more are killed. My instruction is to intensify the drug campaign.]

Meanwhile, Manano said other than family and friends, society also plays a part on how children understand and cope with the deaths.

She added curbing the drug problem would entail offering proper health services for drug victims.

Manano said while they acknowledge the country's drug problem, ending it would be difficult if its roots are not addressed.

"Hindi pagpatay yung solution dito kasi isa siyang societal problem na problema ng Pilipinas. Kahit ubusin nila lahat ng user from the bottom...di matitigil ang droga hanggang ang mga big fish na nagpro-profit sa droga ay di naaaresto," she said.

[Translation: Killing is not the solution because it is a societal problem within the Philippines. Even if they kill all the users from the bottom... they won't be able to stop the spread of drugs until the big fish who profit from it are arrested.]