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Human toll as bodies pile up in Philippine drug war

A police officer ropes off the crime scene as the body of an alleged drug dealer, shot dead, lies in a street of Manila © AFP / Noel Celis

MANILA, Aug 4 – Men shot and left to bleed out on busy streets, mutilated corpses dumped in vacant lots. The bodies are piling up as President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war brings terror to Filipino slums.

Hundreds of people have died since Duterte won a landslide election in May, promising to rid society of drugs and crime in six months by killing tens of thousands of criminals.

In one viral image summing up the human cost, a young woman howls in pain as she cradles her partner’s blood-soaked body under the glare of television lights as horrified bystanders look on from behind yellow police crime tape.

“My husband was innocent. He never hurt anyone,” Jennilyn Olayres said of her partner Michael Siaron, 30, a tricycle driver — refuting the crude cardboard poster left behind by the motorcycle-riding gunmen killers saying “drug pusher”.

Jennilyn Olayres hugs the dead body of her partner Michael Siaron who was shot by unidentified gunman and left with a cardboard sign with a message “I’m a pusher”, on a street in Manila © AFP / Noel Celis

Police figures showed this week that 402 drug suspects had been killed since Duterte was sworn in at the end of June. That figure does not include those slain by suspected vigilantes.

The country’s top broadcaster, ABS-CBN, reported that 603 people had been killed since Duterte’s May election, with 211 murdered by unidentified gunmen.

Police raids of suspected drug dealers’ hideouts have led to near-nightly deaths. Most of the dead suspects — often found face-down in pools of blood — had pistols lying next to them in the act of resisting arrest, according to authorities.

Suspected sympathy killings by anti-drug vigilantes have also left a trail of death. One man was attacked as he drove his tricycle, his body left hanging from the humble vehicle as blood dripped onto the street.

Other people have simply turned up dead in deserted streets and vacant lots at night, their faces cocooned in packaging tape and with cardboard signs accusing them of being drug dealers hanging on their chests.

– Victims not rich –

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Hundreds of people have died since President Rodrigo Duterte won a landslide election in May, promising to rid Philippine society of drugs and crime in six months by killing tens of thousands of criminals © AFP / Noel Celis

At his first “State of the Nation” address to Congress, Duterte defended his anti-crime campaign and described the scene at Siaron’s shooting as a parody of Michelangelo’s 15th century Pieta marble sculpture.

“And there you are, dead and portrayed in a broadsheet like Mother Mary cradling the dead cadaver of Jesus Christ,” the president said, describing the tableau as “drama”.

For an alleged drug dealer, Siaron did not have a lifestyle like Mexican or Colombian cartel kingpins.

The rented hovel that was home to him and his girlfriend, made of scraps of plywood and iron sheeting, was not much bigger than a pig pen. It stood precariously on stilts atop a smelly, garbage-choked open sewer.

“At times we slept until late on purpose so we only had to worry about lunch and dinner,” Olayres, a street vendor, told AFP at her partner’s wake.

Held in a hall at a local government office, two more of the dead were being mourned at the same time. Olayres said Siaron was among the more than 16 million Filipino voters who had catapulted Duterte to office.

The attacks have left wives and relatives crying and fainting at the carnage, but also driven drug users and small-time dealers into frantic mass surrenders to district officials. Police say a staggering 565,806 have turned themselves in.

Many of those who presented themselves with pledges to straighten out their lives wore rubber wristbands bearing Duterte’s name — materials used during his election campaign.

Before the bodies started piling up, Manila police also launched a campaign, codenamed Oplan Rody — the incoming president’s nickname — to rid the streets of drunks and shirtless men, who were made to do 40 pushups to avoid jail time.

A children’s night curfew was also imposed in some districts, with violators and their parents made to undergo counselling.

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