Living among the dead in the Philippine drug war US stops Philippines rifle sale
In a small mausoleum in Manila’s largest cemetery, Judith Castell and her family get ready for another night next to the graves of her husband and her mother-in-law. The cemetery has been Castell’s home for 40 years and where she first met her husband, Emmanuel, who was killed in a police drug-bust operation in September as part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. “I really can’t accept what happened, that he would suddenly disappear. I realize that it’s hard. It’s like losing a hand and a foot,” Castell, 47 said. Castell said she is a supporter of Duterte but hopes police will stop indiscriminate killings that have seen almost 2,300 people killed since he took office less than four months ago.
The widow, who lives with more than 20 members of her family, makes a living tending to tombs and graves in the 54-hectare cemetery, where an estimated 10,000 people live among the dead. Castell normally makes about 100 pesos ($2) a day tending the graves, but expected to earn up to 5,000 pesos ($110) yesterday, with Filipinos flocking to the cemetery for All Saints Day, a Roman Catholic holiday which pays homage to saints. “He’s gone and we can’t do anything about it. I still have to help feed my family,” she said.
In another development, the US State Department halted the planned sale of some 26,000 assault rifles to the Philippines’ national police after Senator Ben Cardin said he would oppose it, Senate aides said. Aides said Cardin, the top Democrat on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was reluctant for the United States to provide the weapons given concerns about human rights violations in the Philippines. News of the thwarting of the weapons sale was met with disappointment among the Philippine police and government yesterday, but they said alternative suppliers would be found. Police spokesman Dionardo Carlos said the Philippines had yet to be notified about the sale being stopped.
The relationship between the United States and the Philippines, a long-time ally, has been complicated lately by President Rodrigo Duterte’s angry reaction to criticism from Washington of his violent battle to rid the country of illegal drugs. More than 2,300 people have been killed in police operations or by suspected vigilantes in connection with the anti-narcotics campaign since Duterte took office on June 30. The US State Department informs Congress when international weapons sales are in the works. Aides said Foreign Relations committee staff informed State that Cardin would oppose the deal during the department’s prenotification process for the sale of 26,000-27,000 assault rifles, stopping the deal.
US State Department officials did not comment. Ronald dela Rosa, the Philippine national police chief and staunch supporter of the war on drugs, said he liked the American rifle, but suggested China as an alternative small-arms provider. “We really wanted the US rifles because these are reliable,” he told broadcaster ABS-CBN. “But if the sale will not push through, we will find another source, maybe from China.” In October, Duterte told US President Barack Obama to “go to hell” and said the United States had refused to sell some weapons to his country, but he did not care because Russia and China were willing suppliers. —Agencies
MANILA: Thousands of crosses are lit with candles to pay tribute to the departed soldiers in observance of All Saints Day at the Heroes Cemetery yesterday in suburban Taguig city, east of Manila, Philippines. Families bring flowers. Relatives seek out graves of departed soldiers. Tombs across the Philippines get cleaned up. —AP