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War on Drugs: A Christian Pastor’s response to Kian delos Santos’ Killing

Parents should never have to bury their own child.
Worst than burying a child is seeing the physical violence, scars and bullet wounds, on your son’s body because the police killed him.

I imagine this is how the Creator God felt looking at Jesus on the cross.

Click Here for a summary of the 8 reasons the War on Drugs is the wrong strategy to stop illegal drug sales in the Philippines.

Two nights ago I visited barangay 160 the home of Kian Delos Santos. He was recently killed in a police drug raid. This raid is starting to be considered a murder, rather than legitimate police operationI visited Kian’s family with friends and pastors from the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches. I wanted to meet Kian’s parents and hear the story from Kian’s neighbours.
The wake was in a compact neighborhood. Neighbors were sitting on their front stoop smiling and waving as I walked by. Approaching the house I felt uncomfortable at the wake. I didn’t know how to act. In Canadian culture, family death is a private matter. We mourn as a small group. But, Filipinos treat death as a community event by lamenting and laughing together for a week. These death rituals still feel foreign and uncomfortable to me after six years here.
I walked into Kian’s former home and stood beside his casket. It was in the entrance hall. I saw the common things on a casket at a wake in the Philippines: A yellow baby chick tripping and walking around on top of the casket waiting for the touch of people who came to give their respects. A handful of rice. A small packet of some bread. A certificate honouring him from the local church. The crucifix of Jesus on the cross looking down on him from the cross. Ribbons and pins with the names of family and relatives he left behind. I wish this was new to me, but a friend of Peace Church has a brother who was killed in a police operation in Manila. His death was suspicious as well. The police report wasn’t accurate. I wish this was all unfamiliar to me.
Kian’s parents Saldy and Lorenza share a moment beside their son’s casket. Photo by Eloisa Lopez/Rappler
Kian’s mom described him as I stood in front of the casket. He was a normal boy like all the newspapers shared. She smiled. He brother is a pastor too. She was very kind to us.
Kian’s father was standing at the top of the stairs watching us. He was clearly tired. Tired of the wake. Tired of answering questions. At that moment I realized that standing on the other side of me, opposite the stairs was a Pastor friend who’s son died 13 months ago in the War on Drugs. He was also unjustly killed.
Kian’s dad came down the stairs, “I’m tired. I’m sorry we’ve had a lot of visitors and media.”
“We we understand. We came as Christians and pastors to honour the family and listen to the story of the community.” We came to express God’s unconditional love for everyone.
He sat down on the stairs to rest for a couple minutes and after some silence started sharing. He spoke Filipino fast. After six years here, I can understand Filipino but still don’t speak fluently.
I felt like I was being torn apart inside. On my right was a pastor who’s son was murdered 13 months ago in the drug war. Evil. On my left, on the stairs, Kian’s father who lost his son to the police less than a week ago. Kian, with one bullet hole in his back and 2 bullet holes in his head was right in front of us looking up at the ceiling.
I was thinking about my three children at home in bed. About national leaders who endorse this violence as a solution to the Philippines drug problem. A false solution. I still have not seen evidence that drugs are less available in any communities after 13,000 deaths. I’ve been looking for evidence.
I support stopping illegal drug crime. I support stopping illegal drug dealing. I support healing addiction, I know how crippling addiction is from personal experience. I support real restoration and healing justice for victims of violent crime. But, I haven’t seen a direct connection between the War on Drugs in the Philippines and these intended results. I’ve been looking for evidence. If you have some, please share it with me through the comments below.

What does the family say happened?

The family’s story of what happened to Kian was simple. He was arrested by police officers. He was only wearing boxer shorts. They should have handcuffed him and brought him to the police station. The police said he fought back and pulled out a gun. It’s almost impossible to replicate how he could have hid a gun in his boxer shorts. He was only wearing boxer shorts so the large .45 gun they claim that he was carrying would have pulled his boxers down as he walked. The witnesses heard him pleading with the police to stop. He was not hostile to the police or resisting arrest. The police story conflicts with witnesses and video evidence.
Upon arresting him the police should have searched him immediately. They should not have traveled with him into a dark ally. They should have shown the family the Shabu (Methamphetamine) the police claim he was hiding in his shorts with his gun right away.
The neighbours shared with us that Kian was a nice boy from the neighbourhood. There is little doubt in their minds that he was arrested for the wrong reasons and he was killed outside the justice system.
The worst part is. This case follows a pattern. The claim that someone killed in the War on Drugs resisted arrest and so he was killed is a pattern. Kian’s death has exposed that pattern. Metro Manila has seen a rise in police and vigilante violence against suspected drug dealers and drug users. The president is happy about this. He recently said, “Let’s kill another 32 every day, maybe we can reduce what ails this country.” That was after the most deadly 4 days in the last 13 months.
Does the national leadership want to heal the country or tear it apart bit by bit? Lower drug violence or see it rise?
After 13 months of drug war, Shabu (Methamphetamine or Crystal Meth) is still very accessible. It is still very cheap. Cheaper than before in some communities. After almost 13,000 Filipino citizens have died without due process. Where is the evidence of an effective War on Drugs? Is the human cost worth our current results?

The Militant policing strategy won’t work

One year ago I told my community and friends that I didn’t believe militant policing can stop drug crime.

If all you do is try to find a police or military solution to the problem, a lot of people die, and it doesn’t solve the problem.

~Pres. Bill Clinton~ (2013 Interview)

Last night a neighbouring Chinese business man walked over and asked how I accurately analysis the national situation? How did I know a year ago that corruption and violence against the poor would become a pattern?
It’s not magic, I followed the global pattern. Look here and here.
America has used the same tactics as the Philippines for 50 years. It’s still a failure. What effect did it have? Illegal drug availability rose and still rises faster during the drug war. Why? Many reasons, but one is that suppressing drug crime with militant force increases the number of illegal drug dealers in the drug market. When one dealer is arrested or killed, 2-5 more fight to take the opening in the market. Trying to stop the supply of drugs is generally ineffective. Ever heard of the mythical Hydra? It’s the same, but drug lords rather than a mythical monster with multiple heads..
Mexico, same story.
The Philippines government wants more time before it shows positive results. Meanwhile it’s sharing fake results internationally at a regional summit in Laos (read here and here). Why? Ashamed? Which government agency has data to show the reliable positive or negative effect of the War on Drugs? I haven’t seen any real, encouraging statistics. I’ve been searching for them.

Eight Costs of the War on Drugs in the Philippines

There are eight negative trends of the War on Drugs in the Philippines. They mirror the 9 negative “costs” of the global War on Drugs. Everything that happened in the failed 50 year old international War on Drugs is happening in the Philippines. The last 13 months have confirmed each of these. These are the same trends I expected at the beginning of the drug war.
  1. The War on Drugs hurts children and vulnerable youth.
  2. The War on Drugs creates crime and enriches criminals.
Check back to this website or click here to sign up for the Christian Peacebuilding Newsletter and read future articles detailing the six effects.

Christians and the Philippine’s War on Drugs

As Christians we could think of ourselves as former addicts. The center of a Christian worldview is the belief that we are all imperfect and we need to change our allegiance and follow a new way of life, the way of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul, the most prolific writer of the New Testament, wrote we were all once slaves to sin and death (Roman 6:20-21). We cannot help ourselves, we need the creator to save us because we invest our time, talent and treasure outside of what the Creator God intends, and this cripples and kills us. This is sin (in greek “hamartia” which literally means missing the target) and it ultimately kills us, our neighbours and the world around us.

Christian’s have accepted Jesus invitation back into God’s family. Christian’s accept Jesus’ free offer to be free from slavery, for sin, from death and insecurity. Freedom from addiction to our self-centered way and live a fresh life following Jesus’ way with his help.

Christian’s have realigned our allegiance. We’re now children of God who’ve taken Jesus’ way as our new way and taken him as our new King.

Our king suffered the worst extra-judicial killing in history on the cross. It was carried out by Jewish religious leaders and Roman authorities. After 3 days’ the Creator God resurrected him from the dead and defeated the power of death.

In defeating death he reconciled us to God, to one another, to ourselves to all of creation. Jesus sends us out as his messengers to tell our story and share the news of free reconciliation (2 Cor 5:16-20). Jesus is our king. This is the good news of reconciliation for all people and an invitation to become citizens of his Kingdom (Mark 1:15).

Supporting the War on Drugs goes against being a follower of Jesus. Jesus’ disciples are addicts who were healed and forgiven. How can we recieve forgiveness but then call for the death of those who are still suffering in sin the same way we once were? That’s the point of the story of the unforgiving servant (Matt 18:21-35). If we have been forgiven, we need to forgive and seek the healing of all others.
As residents of the Philippines who want to see the proliferation of illegal drugs reduced in this nation we need to chose our strategy wisely. As Christians we also need to chose our strategy wisely. We need to chose who we will follow when a nation’s leaders command christian police to kill, or call for the public support of killing. Who will you follow? Jesus who offers life and healing or national leaders who call for killing and death? Usually you can submit to national authorities and follow Jesus, but not on an issue like suspected death squads and a violently repressive War on Drugs.
The early Church needed to decided a similar thing. Who would they follow in conflicted instructions, Jesus or Caesar? They said, Jesus is Lord.

How is this connected to Kian and the War on Drugs?

Jesus followers in Manila and around the Philippines need to respond to the drug problem in the Philippines. We need to believe that Jesus is calling us as his disciples to organize our neighbourhoods and know our neighbours. To know the women who suffer in families with drug users and find help. To help the little children who have seen their parents killed by drug users or police. To help the children who have experienced sexual violence at the hands of drug users or police. To help drug addicts find healing (Like this). To help jobless people who are dealing drugs find or create legal work. To help the police legitimately arrest and process dangerous drug dealers in our neighbourhoods. To support the widows and fatherless/motherless children who’ve been created by vigilantes and violent police operations gone wrong.
I’ve shown above why I believe that the War on Drugs in the Philippines is ineffective and goes against being a follower of Jesus, a Christian, a disciple. It’s time to highlight the stories of people who are doing amazing things that are working to reduce drug use.
Visit my site again or sign up to my newsletter for future stories about Christians who are leading in healing, not killing.