Rubylin Litao is a deaconess with the United Methodist Church and coordinator of Rise Up for Life and for Rights. Set up in November 2016, the advocacy group works with various religious denominations and associations to counter murders and seek justice. For her, "We have a duty to fight for the truth".
Manila (AsiaNews) – Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration "lie to citizens about the war on drugs, which is taking place in the streets of the poorest neighbourhoods in the country,” said Rubylin Litao (pictured), deaconess of the United Methodist Church and coordinator of Rise Up for Life and for Rights, speaking to AsiaNews
The advocacy group unites human rights activists, Christian leaders and families of people who lost their lives to to anti-drug operations or extrajudicial killings.
Two days ago, the Philippines National Police (PNP) reported more than 6,600 official deaths in the president’s crackdown. However, "Government statistics change constantly and are not reliable,” said Litao.
“According to reports from reliable media and activists, the number of deaths is between 27,000 and 30,000,” she added. “Even if it was one or only two people, it would still be a very serious thing!"
Set up in November 2016, the faith-based Rise Up network brings together various religious groups and community associations, to oppose killings and seek justice. The organisation is also engaged in programmes to provide support to victims’ families and help addicts get through rehabilitation.
"The so-called 'war on drugs', which the president launched after his rise to power, in June 2016, has sparked alarming doubts. In just two months, 4,000 people were killed in murky circumstances.”
For Litao, “What’s worrying the most is that the victims belonged to the poorest urban communities and were not subjected to a regular trial."
"This has pushed activists, especially Church people, to do something to defend life, stop the murders and face the roots of the problem of illegal drugs.
“We are not opposed to the government's plans to fight the problem, but we oppose an approach that tolerates the killing of people. With the support of other organisations, above all Promotion of Church People's Response (PCPR), we have launched a campaign with signatures, prayer meetings, vigils.
"At first, many people criticised us because they thought we were a priori against the president. In October 2016 we started visiting communities, documenting the various cases of abuse and meeting the families of the victims. They are afraid, they don't know where to turn to because in most cases their loved ones died during Tokhang-style operations ".
Tokhang is a portmanteau made up of two words in Cebuano, Duterte's mother tongue: tuktok is an onomatopoeia that indicates 'knocking' and hangyo means 'request'. It refers to police raids on the homes of suspects.
In coordination with the military and with the help of informants, local police units draft lists of alleged drug dealers or drug users in barangays (villages, districts or wards). The agents then appear at the door of the houses of the suspects, inviting them to "surrender" to the local police stations.
The activists complain, however, that "policemen have adopted the policy of shoot 'first and then, if need be, ask questions'."
Yet, despite the documented abuses in drug war violence, many Filipinos continue to support the president's drastic policies. For Litao, the popular support enjoyed by Duterte is not surprising.
"Previous governments have never done enough to counter the spread of drugs,” she explained. “The president, with his no-nonsense talk, speaks directly to people, succeeding in capitalising on the general discontent. However, we have the duty to fight for the truth, to make Filipinos understand that the president tells lies." (F.P.)