Funeral for teen killed in drug war turns into street protest

Filipinos gather to demand justice for Kian, The teenager's death may have struck a chord with many because of his age and the way he was killed. Mr Saldy de los Santos being comforted by his wife Lorenza (half-hidden), as he mourns at the coffin of
Filipinos gather to demand justice for Kian, The teenager's death may have struck a chord with many because of his age and the way he was killed. PHOTOS: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Filipinos gather to demand justice for Kian, The teenager's death may have struck a chord with many because of his age and the way he was killed. Mr Saldy de los Santos being comforted by his wife Lorenza (half-hidden), as he mourns at the coffin of
Mr Saldy de los Santos being comforted by his wife Lorenza (half-hidden), as he mourns at the coffin of their son, Kian, during burial rites in a Manila church.

Anger directed against police in Duterte's crackdown on crime

Kian Loyd de los Santos, the 17-year-old killed by anti-narcotics agents as he knelt face down in a dark and dirty alleyway, was laid to rest yesterday with no end in sight to the furore over his death caused by President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drugs.

Some 5,000 mourners turned up for a funeral march that turned into one of the biggest protests yet over those killed in Mr Duterte's crackdown on crime and drug traffickers.

Thousands more lined the roads that led from the boy's home in Caloocan city, north of the capital, Manila, to a cemetery about 10km away. They waited along sidewalks, and stood on roofs, staircases, bridgeways and overpasses to catch a glimpse of Kian's flower-draped coffin on a flatbed truck flanked by tarpaulins bearing the words "Run, Kian, Run" and "Stop the killings".

Many live in rundown districts where Mr Duterte has enjoyed broad support. But this time, they are demanding justice for the victim, a Grade 12 student, who was heard crying, "Stop, please. I have a test tomorrow", as three policemen beat him up, just moments before he was shot three times - once in the back and twice in the head.

A middle-aged woman held a cardboard with the words, "Kian, you are an eye-opener". Others directed their anger at the police, labelling the lawmen as "killers".

Kian's death on Aug 16 has drawn much public attention to allegations by activists that police have been systematically executing suspected drug users and dealers.

  • Casualties in the drugs war

  • The government claims Kian Loyd de los Santos' death was being "overblown" by its critics and that it was an "isolated case". But the Children's Legal Rights and Development Centre said the boy was just one of 54 minors, aged one to 17, killed since President Rodrigo Duterte began his war on drugs last year. Here are some of them:

    DANICA MAY GARCIA, aged five

    Killed (Aug 23, 2016) by a stray bullet fired by two masked men looking for her grandfather.

    ALTHEA BARBON, aged four

    Killed (Sept 1, 2016) when policemen shot at her father as he sped away on a motorcycle. Althea was riding with her father.

    HIDEYOSHI KAWATA, aged 17

    Killed (January 2017) in a buy-bust operation. Police said he was armed with an Uzi submachine gun.

    KRISTINE JOY SAILOG, aged 12

    Killed (Dec 22, 2016) while attending a pre-dawn mass. Vigilantes were after a suspected drug trafficker.

    ROMAN MANAOIS, aged 20

    Killed (July 16, 2016) because he was in the same motorised rickshaw with a drug suspect.

    JOSHUA CUMILANG, aged 18

    Killed (Nov 18, 2016) by a policeman tied to three extrajudicial killings. He was dragged into an alley where he was shot.

By all accounts, before he was killed, Kian was like any other teen. Boyish and boisterous, he was popular, with his friends remembering him as a "joker" but a thoughtful person. One said Kian once pawned his mobile phone and sold a T-shirt to help a pal pay his hospital bills.

Among the many ironies in his life was that Kian had considered himself a die-hard Duterte supporter, and wanted to be a policeman.

He was unremarkable as a student but that might have been because he had to split his time between school and helping his family make ends meet.

Each day, as the day broke and before he went to school, he would spread a blanket on a pavement and lay out a mix of small items - notepads, pens, rubber bands - that he sold to passersby. Takings were meagre but helped supplement what his mother, a maid working in Saudi Arabia, sent the family.

"My son was not into anything, just studying. He was clawing his way out of poverty. Then in the blink of an eye, they took him from us," his father Saldy said.

Police, however, portrayed the dead teen as a drug courier for his father and uncles, who they insisted were known thugs in their neighbourhood. But evidence being compiled in a senate investigation and the Public Attorney's Office are whittling down this narrative.

The three policemen who killed him during a drug raid early in the evening said Kian shot at them, so they fired back.

But a witness interviewed by Reuters said he saw the three men grab Kian outside a shop near his home past 8pm on Aug 16. They then began slapping and punching the boy until he cried. They put him in a headlock and dragged him away.

A neighbour, Victor, a teenage student, said it was Kian the men were dragging but he was too scared to follow. The boy was taken to a dark, trash-logged alley by a river, near a pigsty, according to crime scene investigators. Witnesses then reported hearing bursts of gunfire. Moments later, Kian was dead.

At a senate hearing on Thursday, the three policemen's superiors admitted Kian was not on any list of drug suspects. They said they learnt Kian was a drug courier only a day after he was killed, based on testimonies given by a self-confessed addict, and from social media posts.

Kian had also tested negative for powder burns, which means he did not fire a gun. On Friday, the boy's parents and public lawyers filed murder complaints against the three policemen.

The teen's death may have struck a chord with many because of his age and the way he was killed. But it is unlikely to compel Mr Duterte to dial down his heavy-handed approach to the "drug menace".

For now, the "one-time, big-time" drug raids that had led to at least 85 suspected users and peddlers killed in three nights has stopped. But Mr Ronald de la Rosa, the national police chief, said the drug war will continue till Mr Duterte's last day in office in 2022.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 27, 2017, with the headline 'Funeral for teen killed in drug war turns into street protest'. Print Edition | Subscribe