QUEZON CITY, The Philippines – On the second floor of a nondescript coffeehouse in a trendy neighborhood outside of Manila, customers were welcomed by a marble tombstone with a small inscription in gold: “Stop the Killings.”
The headstone, part of an art exhibit at the coffee shop, commemorates the victims of President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs.
Another marker in the exhibit featured the Philippine word “nanlaban,” meaning: †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 killing.
The coffee shop, Silingan, opened last year and is mainly staffed by the mothers and wives, sisters and daughters of those who have died since 2016, when Mr Duterte took office. In addition to serving lattes and cappuccinos, these women want to educate the public on 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, about 8,000 people accused of involvement in the illegal drug trade have been murdered since Duterte launched his deadly war on drugs. Rights groups have reported higher numbers.
“We don’t just sell coffee here,” said Sharon Angeles, chief barista at Silingan. “We tell clients about our lives and how this place is a place of healing for us. We also tell them, if they will listen, why Duterte’s drug war is a war against the poor, not drugs.”
The women of Silingan, meaning “neighbor,” hope Mr. Duterte is held accountable for the violence before it’s 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 his vice president.
But like many others in the Philippines, they are increasingly concerned that once Mr. Marcos and the president’s daughter takes office next month, the new administration will block any attempt to investigate Mr. Duterte once he is out of office and not longer immune to persecution.
The brother of Mrs. Angeles, Christian, became one of the first victims of the extrajudicial killings when he was arrested by the police just four months after Mr. Duterte’s term. Christian, who was 20, has never taken drugs, Ms Angeles said. But his two companions at the time of the raid were known users with small criminal records.
When the two companions saw the police coming, they fled.
“But Christian didn’t run because he knew he was clean,” Ms. Angeles said. “Yet I had warned him before that a bullet won’t listen to his excuses.” Her brother was a volunteer watchman who believed in the law, she said, adding that the autopsy results the family ordered were negative for drug use.
“My brother was killed like an animal,” said Ms. Angeles. “If Duterte hadn’t won, this wouldn’t have happened and Christian would still be alive.”
During a recent weekend at the cafe, Mrs. Angeles with two college students who had walked into the store.
The film majors said they became curious when they saw a painted message on the steps of the black metal staircase that led to the art exhibit on the second floor: It’s not a war on illegal drugs. It’s an illegal war on drugs.
“Nanlaban” was not an excuse in 2018 when a court convicted three officers of murder and sentenced them to life in prison for the death of Kian Loyd delos Santo, a 17-year-old student.
The uproar prompted Mr Duterte to temporarily suspend his anti-drug campaign, only to relaunch it weeks later.
“We are talking to clients about the drug war and how it has affected us,” said Ms. Angeles. “It’s up to them to do what they want with the information.”
Grace Garganta, another coffee shop employee, said “nanlaban” was the pretext police used to justify the murders of her 52-year-old father and her 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 say was a gun battle.
Joseph Garganta was later arrested when he protested the raid. She said his body was fished out of a river the next day. His face was wrapped in packing tape and his genitals were mutilated, she said.
The Garganta family quickly became the face of Duterte’s unfolding drug war after local tabloids began portraying the father as a “big pusher,” Ms Garganta said.
Neighbors kept quiet for fear of being identified as accomplices. Ms. Garganta, who was studying for a degree in hotel and restaurant management at the time, dropped out of school.
But with Silingan she has found redemption.
Now a mother of two young children, Ms Garganta said her only wish is for people to hear her story and that of the other women at the coffee shop who authorities want to hold responsible for the murders. “I’m not afraid anymore,” she said. “The public must know the truth.”
mr. Duterte remains overwhelmingly popular in the Philippines and denies any wrongdoing in the drug war. He has maintained 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 has said that of the nearly 600 episodes it has reviewed about drug-related extrajudicial killings, almost all showed signs of malicious intent by the police.
According to the committee, many of the victims have been fatally hit several times, usually at close range. They also showed blunt wounds and signs of torture.
The commission’s findings resemble those of international human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, which has campaigned to have Mr Duterte investigated.
The International Criminal Court has said there is evidence showing crimes against humanity have been committed in the Philippines led by Mr Duterte, who officially withdrew the country from the international body in 2019 after it concluded a preliminary investigation into the case. started.
“There are people who come in here and angrily tell us they support Mr. Duterte,” said Ms. Garganta, who was among the first to join street protests calling for Mr. Duterte to be investigated by the ICC.
“I just keep quiet, because I don’t have to involve them. They have their own opinion.”
But now Mr. Duterte leaves next month, Ms. Garganta fears no one will be punished for the thousands murdered without trial in the Philippines. “All we want is for us to have a chance to be heard,” she said.