A cafe in the Philippines is dedicated to the victims of Duterte's war on drugs

QUEZON CITY, Philippines — On the second floor of a nondescript cafe in a hip neighborhood outside Manila, customers were greeted by a m...


QUEZON CITY, Philippines — On the second floor of a nondescript cafe in a hip neighborhood outside Manila, customers were greeted by a marble tombstone with a tiny inscription written in gold: “Stop the Killings.”

The headstone, part of an art exhibit at the cafe, is dedicated to the memory of those killed in President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs.

Another exhibit marker featured the Filipino word “nanlaban,” which means “resisted.” To authorities, the word suggests a drug suspect who resisted arrest and engaged in gunfire before being lawfully killed by police. But for the families of the dead, it suggests that the person was the victim of an extrajudicial execution.

The cafe, Silingan, opened last year and is staffed mostly by the mothers and wives, sisters and daughters of those killed since 2016 when Mr Duterte took office. Beyond serving lattes and cappuccinos, these women aim to educate the public about the brutal truth behind Mr. Duterte’s promise to rid the streets of drug dealers and addicts at all costs.

According to the Philippine National Police, around 8,000 people accused of being involved in drug trafficking have been killed since Mr Duterte launched his deadly war on drugs. Rights groups have reported higher numbers.

“We don’t just sell coffee here,” said Sharon Angeles, Silingan’s head barista. “We tell guests about our life and how this place serves as our place of healing. We also tell them, if they will listen, why Duterte’s war on drugs is a war on the poor, not on drugs.

The women of Silingan, which means “neighbour”, hope to see Mr Duterte held accountable for the violence before it is too late. This month, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the former dictator’s son and namesake, was elected to succeed Mr. Duterte, with Sara Duterte, the president’s daughter, as vice president.

But, like many others in the Philippines, they are increasingly concerned that once Mr. Marcos and the president’s daughter take office next month, the new administration will block any effort to investigate Mr. Duterte once that he will be removed from his post and that he will no longer be immune from prosecution. .

Ms Angeles’ brother Christian became one of the first victims of the extrajudicial executions when he was arrested by police just four months into Mr Duterte’s term in office. Christian, who was 20, never did drugs, Ms Angeles said. But his two companions at the time of the raid were known users with a small criminal record.

When the two companions saw the police approaching, they fled.

“But Christian didn’t run because he knew he was clean,” Ms Angeles said. “Still, I had warned him before that a bullet wouldn’t listen to his excuses.” Her brother was a volunteer caretaker who believed in the law, she said, adding that the results of the autopsy ordered by the family were negative for drug use.

“My brother was killed like an animal,” Ms Angeles said. “If Duterte hadn’t won, this wouldn’t have happened and Christian would be alive today.”

On a recent weekend at the cafe, Ms. Angeles spoke to two college students who had wandered into the store.

Film majors said they became curious when they saw a message painted on the steps of her black metal staircase leading to the second-floor art exhibit: This is not a war on illicit drugs. This is an illegal war on drugs.

“Nanlaban” was no excuse in 2018 when a court found three officers guilty of murder and sentenced them to life in prison for the death of 17-year-old student Kian Loyd delos Santo.

The uproar prompted Mr. Duterte to temporarily suspend his anti-drug campaign, only to relaunch it weeks later.

“We talk to clients about the war on drugs and how it’s affected us,” Ms. Angeles said. “It’s up to them to do what they want with the information.”

Grace Garganta, another cafe employee, said “nanlaban” was the pretext used by police to justify the murder of her 52-year-old father and 27-year-old older brother.

Days after Mr Duterte took office, police raided their home in one of Manila’s sprawling slums. The father, Marcelo, was killed in what police described as a shootout.

Ms Garganta’s brother Joseph was later arrested when he protested the raid. She said her body was fished out of a river the next day. Her face was wrapped in duct tape and her genitals were mutilated, she said.

The Garganta family quickly became the face of Mr Duterte’s war on drugs after local tabloids began portraying the father as a “high profile pusher”, Ms Garganta said.

The neighbors kept silent for fear of being identified as accomplices. Ms Garganta, who at the time was studying for a degree in hotel and restaurant management, dropped out of school.

But in Silingan, she found redemption.

Now a mother of two young children, Ms Garganta said her only wish was for people to hear her story and that of the other women at the cafe who are seeking to hold the authorities accountable for the murders. “I’m not afraid anymore,” she said. “The public must know the truth.”

Mr Duterte remains hugely popular in the Philippines and has denied any wrongdoing in the war on drugs. He insisted that violence was a necessary part of his efforts to eradicate the scourge of drug use that afflicts many poor Filipinos.

But the local Human Rights Commission said that of the nearly 600 episodes it reviewed involving drug-related extrajudicial executions, nearly all showed signs of foul play by the police.

Many victims were shot multiple times, usually at close range, according to the commission. They also showed blunt force injuries and signs of torture.

The commission’s findings parallel those of international rights groups such as Human Rights Watch, which campaigned for Mr. Duterte to investigate.

The International Criminal Court has said there is evidence showing crimes against humanity were committed in the Philippines under the leadership of Mr Duterte, who formally withdrew the country from the international body in 2019, after the start of its preliminary investigation into the case.

“There are people who come here and angrily tell us that they support Mr. Duterte,” said Ms. Garganta, who was among the first to join street protests demanding that Mr. Duterte be subjected of an ICC investigation.

“I am silent, because I don’t need to hire them. They have their own mind.

Yet with Mr Duterte leaving next month, Ms Garganta fears no one will be punished for the thousands of people killed in the Philippines without trial. “All we want is a chance to be heard,” she said.

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Newsrust - US Top News: A cafe in the Philippines is dedicated to the victims of Duterte's war on drugs
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