Philippines: Gunned down with a president's blessing?

New Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte campaigned hard on a no-nonsense approach to crime -- and now the full impact of what exactly this means for those on the streets is emerging.

Shocking photographs published in local and international media show suspected drug dealers -- the front line on his war against drugs -- often bound hand and foot, shirts soaked in blood, their faces sometimes covered in duct tape, wearing crude signs proclaiming their alleged crimes. Murdered in the streets or in ramshackle, crowded rooms.


Tough warnings

And no one can say they weren't warned.

Part of Duterte's appeal to the electorate has always been his toughness, and willingness to tackle crime -- although this approach goes alongside what critics see as a complete disregard of due process.

He's repeatedly boasted that his presidency would see the end of crime, and on several occasions has hinted openly that he doesn't oppose his police force or even citizens taking the lives of suspected criminals.

In a nationally televised speech in June, Duterte told citizens, "If (a criminal) fights, and he fights to the death, you can kill him." He went on to say, "Please feel free to call us, the police, or do it yourself if you have the gun ... you have my support."

The Philippine Daily Inquirer's "Kill List," regarded as one of the most accurate records of the killings of suspected drug dealers by police and vigilantes, recorded 465 deaths between June 30 -- the day Duterte assumed office -- and August 1.


Poignant, devastating image

One image, in particular, has gone viral. It shows slain suspected drug pusher Michael Siaron, cradled where he lies on the street by his partner Jennilyn Olayres. A nearby, handwritten sign reads "pusher." He was murdered by unidentified gunmen riding in tandem along the Pasay Rotunda in Manila on July 23rd, according to Raffy Lerma, the photographer who took the shot.

Olayres insists that he was just a pedicab driver and had no ties to the drug trade.

A woman, identified as Jennilyn Olayres hugs her slain partner Michael Siaron, next to a placard which reads "I'm a pusher." Siaron was shot dead in Manila on July 23, 2016.

Duterte showed little sympathy for the grieving woman, or indeed the murdered man, in the photo. Responding to it after it had made its way to the front page of several Filipino newspapers last week, he instead used it as a warning.

"If you don't want to die and get hurt, don't pin your hopes on priests and human rights (groups). They can't stop death," Duterte, the straight-talking former mayor of Davao, a restive southern Philippines town, said last week, referring to the image.

"Then you end up sprawled on the ground and you are portrayed in a broadsheet like Mother Mary cradling the dead cadaver of Jesus Christ. Well, that's very dramatic."

He's doubling down on the policy, despite criticisms that his apparent support for extrajudicial killings is leading the country down a dangerous, lawless path.

"Double your efforts. Triple them, if need be. We will not stop until the last drug lord, the last financier, and the last pusher have surrendered or put behind bars -- or below the ground, if they so wish," he said in his July 25 State of the Nation speech.

On Wednesday, he added in a speech that the reason he won by a "landslide" was the "sense of security" that he offers.

He said that the impact of drugs in the community made him "really angry. I've always been angry, even as mayor."

Adding that "it's a war, not a crisis," he asked, "why should these people live?"

Despite the bullish tone, a government spokesman insists that the Duterte administration is against any form of extrajudicial killings.

"We do not condone these acts," Presidential Communications Office (PCO) Secretary Martin Andanar said.

"(The) government is here to save our people from the drug menace and punish the offenders, including the big-time ones. The PNP (Philippines National Police) continues to investigate situations involving vigilante killings and operational aspects where deaths are reported."