Bodies pile up in Duterte’s drug war in the Philippines

Hundreds of people have died since Mr Duterte won a landslide election in May, promising to rid society of drugs and crime in six months by killing tens of thousands of criminals.

Jennilyn Olayres hugs the body of her partner Michael Siaron who was murdered by a gunman and left with a cardboard sign with a message “I’m a pusher” in a street in Manila. Noel Celis / AFP
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MANILA // Men shot and left to bleed on busy streets, mutilated bodies dumped in car parks. The bodies count is rising as president Rodrigo Duterte takes his drug war to Filipino slums.

Hundreds of people have died since May, when Mr Duterte won a landslide election and promised to rid society of drugs and crime in six months by killing tens of thousands of criminals.

In one viral image summed up the human cost: a young woman howled in pain as she cradled her partner’s bloody body under the glare of television lights as bystanders look on from behind yellow police crime tape.

“My husband was innocent. He never hurt anyone,” Jennilyn Olayres said of her partner Michael Siaron, 30, a tricycle driver – refuting a crude cardboard poster left by the motorcycle-riding gunmen killers saying “drug pusher”.

Police figures showed this week that 402 drug suspects had been killed since Mr Duterte was sworn in at the end of June. That figure does not include those murdered by suspected vigilantes.

The country’s top broadcaster, ABS-CBN, reported that 603 people had been killed since Mr Duterte’s election win, with 211 murdered by unidentified gunmen.

Police raids of suspected drug dealers’ hideouts have led to near-nightly deaths. Most of the dead suspects – often found facedown in pools of blood – had pistols lying next to them in the act of resisting arrest, authorities said.

Suspected killings by anti-drug vigilantes have also left a trail of death. One man was attacked as he drove his tricycle, his body left hanging from the vehicle.

Other people have simply turned up dead in deserted streets and car parks at night, their faces cocooned in packaging tape and with cardboard signs accusing them of being drug dealers hanging on their chests.

At his first state of the nation address to congress, Mr Duterte defended his anti-crime campaign and described the scene at Siaron’s shooting as a parody of Michelangelo’s 15th century sculpture Pieta.

“And there you are, dead and portrayed in a broadsheet like Mother Mary cradling the dead cadaver of Jesus Christ,” the president said, describing the tableau as “drama”.

For an alleged drug dealer, Siaron did not have a lifestyle like Mexican or Colombian cartel kingpins.

Home was made of scraps of plywood and iron sheeting. It stood precariously on stilts atop a choked open sewer.

“At times we slept until late on purpose so we only had to worry about lunch and dinner,” Ms Olayres, a street vendor, said at her partner’s wake.

Held in a hall at a municipal government office, two more of the dead were being mourned at the same time. Ms Olayres said Siaron was among the more than 16 million Filipino voters who had catapulted Mr Duterte to office.

The attacks have left wives and relatives crying and fainting at the carnage, but also driven drug users and small-time dealers into frantic mass surrenders to district officials. Police said 565,806 have turned themselves in.

Many of those who presented themselves with pledges to straighten out their lives wore rubber wristbands bearing Mr Duterte’s name.

Before the bodies began piling up, Manila police also launched a campaign, code-named Oplan Rody – the incoming president’s nickname – to rid the streets of drunks and shirtless men, who were made to do 40 push-ups to avoid jail time.

A children’s night curfew was also imposed in some districts, with violators and their parents made to undergo counselling.

* Agence France-Presse