Duterte’s deadly drug war reaches former US bases in the Philippines
October 15, 2016
CUBI POINT, Philippines — Shot in the stomach and knee, the man crumpled in the parking lot in front of St. Therese, the old Naval Air Station Cubi Point chapel.
Arman Q. Juaneza’s wounds appeared to be treatable, and a hospital was nearby. But no one wanted to get involved, said Victorio Vizcocho Jr., publisher of the Subic Bay News.
“There were authorities in the area but they didn’t try to save him,” said Vizcocho, whose newspaper was formerly the official publication of the U.S. naval base here.
The 43-year-old man died. Vizcocho said the killing was thought to be connected to Chinese drug operations.
Almost two months later, police have yet to make an arrest in the killing, which took place inside the still-fenced and guarded former U.S. military facility now known as the Subic Bay Freeport.
Not many want to get involved in the deadly drama that has claimed more than 3,400 lives in the Philippines since President Rodrigo Duterte took office June 30 and began his uncompromising war on drugs. He has encouraged citizens to kill drug dealers, and told Philippine National Police that he will support them in doing so as well. In a press conference in August, he was quoted as saying, “My order is to destroy.”
Bodies are sometimes found with signs tagging them as addicts or dealers, and many Filipinos support the counternarcotics campaign, Vizcocho said.
Duterte has said that the drug problem is even worse that he thought, so similar scenes are likely to continue to play out on the streets.
“Hitler massacred 3 million Jews … there’s 3 million drug addicts… I’d be happy to slaughter them,” Duterte said recently, before apologizing to Jews.
But the man who earned the nickname “Duterte Harry” while carrying out a similar purge as mayor of the southern city of Davao isn’t apologetic about his extrajudicial campaign, bristling profanely at U.S. and U.N. suggestions that he should back off.
Drug war battlefields surround the Freeport, which retains much of the character from its time as a U.S. military installation, including guard posts at its main entrances. The vacated Navy facilities have been occupied by commercial operations, including restaurants, shops and schools.
There’s a striking contrast between the American-style development inside the fence and the hustle and bustle of ordinary Filipino towns outside, where motorcycle taxis and open-sided jeepney buses weave along narrow lanes made narrower by roadside vendors hawking everything from Chinese Christmas lights to bows and arrows.
In Olongapo City, bordering the port and home to 220,000 people, drug users seeking rehabilitation can be trained and paid to build wooden coffins, Reuters reported this month.
Data released by the Olongapo Police, who have dubbed their counternarcotic effort “Project Double Barrel,” show that, between July 1 and Oct. 5, 13 drug suspects were killed and 220 arrested in 111 raids and 1,201 house visits. Police confiscated 584 sachets of shabu, or methamphetamines, and more than 1,000 confessed drug users and dealers have voluntarily surrendered. Vizcocho said police have battled drug problems in the area for decades but that criminal groups involved in shabu manufacture and sale have become more organized.
In one day in Subic Town, at the other end of the bay from the port, 5,000 people confessed to drug offenses and surrendered to police. Those who surrender have their names added to a list. Some have been killed after they were sent home, he said.
“At least 20 people have been killed around Subic Bay in recent months,” he said.
Most Filipinos support the counternarcotics campaign, Vizcocho said.
“They don’t appear to understand the long-term implications of what is going on,” he said. “If police are doing things that they know are illegal and if they are able to get away with it, it is going to erode the normal values of society.”
The neighborhood where Juaneza was killed looks a lot like it did when the Americans were there. The Tiara Hotel — once officers’ quarters — still stands like a flaking white dinosaur beside the chapel, which was repaired after its roof collapsed from the weight of dust from the Mount Pinatubo eruption in 1991.
Juaneza’s killing is said to involve links to Chinese drug manufacturers. Subic Bay is believed to be an entry point for ingredients used to manufacture crystal methamphetamine, the cheap drug of choice among the poor.
Ella Quinto, 26, who works at a convenience store behind the chapel, said some of the victim’s coworkers were at the shop when the shooting happened. Images from the store’s security camera disappeared, she said, but she isn’t scared.
“This neighborhood is really quiet. It’s just that one time,” she said She said she heard the victim was involved in drugs, had impersonated a police officer and “had it coming.”
Quinto said she has mixed feelings about the drug war.
“It’s good they are getting rid of the drug dealers, but innocent people are being caught up in it,” she said.
Rino Moraleta, a port operations manager who lives in former U.S. Navy housing across the road from the chapel, said the neighborhood was safe for his kids buthe was against the extrajudicial killings.
“Absolutely it bothers me as a Catholic. It is against God’s will,” he said.
There have been a dozen drug killings in Barrio Barretto, an Olongapo suburb that’s home to Subic’s Veterans of Foreign Wars post, according to Scott Sims, 57, a retired Navy chief warrant officer here last weekend.
In a country with a broken judicial system, it’s cheaper and easier to kill recidivist offenders, he said while sipping on a cold San Miguel beer and watching the American Forces Network on a TV above the bar.
“Most of us retired military aren’t bothered. We just keep our heads down,” said Sims, who has lived in nearby San Antonio for 12 years.
Sims said he can spot expatriates who use shabu from their sunken eyes, pale skin and the absence of beer bellies sported by many retirees in Subic Bay. He said his neighbor, a European, fled the country soon after the drug raids started.
Few expatriates have been arrested but police recently caught an American with drugs in Subic Bay, he said.
“He was stopped on a motorcycle with his girlfriend at 2 a.m. and when he pulled out his wallet to show ID, a packet of shabu fell out,” Sims said.
Some drug dealers in his neighborhood have turned themselves in to police, he said.
“The locals know who the druggies are. Some guys who turned themselves in were sent home and killed. I’ve heard there is money being paid so there are vigilante squads out there,” he said.
While most of those who were killed after returning home may have been targeted for quickly falling back into their old habits, there has been speculation that some were killed by drug kings to make sure they didn’t turn into informants.
Sims expects the violence to get worse.
“They’re averaging more than 30 killings a day, and Duterte has said the drug problem is bigger than he thought it was, so what is the next step?”
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