“Who­ever th­ese peo­ple are, it’s still in the hands of the pres­i­dent to stop this.”

IKE PONCE, mayor of Pateros town in The Philip­pines

New Straits Times - - News -

MANILA: In the past eight months, a death squad known as the Bon­net Gang has gunned down more than 60 drug sus­pects in the town of Pateros.

Mayor Ike Ponce has had enough.

He has put up ban­ners across Pateros, in the south­east of Metro Manila, to de­nounce the gang, which is named for the hoods its mo­tor­bike-rid­ing gun­men wear to hide their iden­ti­ties.

Ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings are “not the right process to stop the pro­lif­er­a­tion of il­le­gal drugs”, read the ban­ners.

“We value hu­man life and ad­here to the rule of law.”

Ponce knows his ac­tions could anger not just the Bon­net Gang but also some­one more pow­er­ful — Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte.

More than 8,000 peo­ple, mostly petty drug users and deal­ers, have been killed in the “war on drugs” pur­sued by Duterte since he took of­fice.

Ponce is the only one of Metro Manila’s 17 may­ors to pub­licly op­pose the vi­o­lence.

In many cases, politi­cians have worked with the po­lice to draw up lists of drug users and deal­ers, who then of­ten end up dead.

Duterte has put politi­cians and of­fi­cials un­der un­prece­dented scru­tiny.

He has pub­licly bran­dished a thick list of what he says are thou­sands of “nar­copoliti­cians” and warned may­ors in­volved in the drug trade to re­sign or die.

“Son of a b***h, if your name is there, you have a prob­lem,” he said in Jan­uary. “I will kill you.” Pateros has only 63,000 peo­ple, but they are packed into a war­ren of shops, houses and shacks ra­di­at­ing from a 200year-old church.

The Bon­net Gang ter­rorises the town with ap­par­ent im­punity, pick­ing off tar­gets after dark.

Ponce blames it for the 64 vig­i­lantestyle killings in Pateros since the drug war be­gan, in­clud­ing three last month.

“Why? Be­cause from day one... we have not ar­rested any­one. That is why peo­ple are think­ing they are po­lice of­fi­cers.”

Joven Gat­payat, a city coun­cil­lor who heads Pateros’s an­tidrug abuse coun­cil, said the killers car­ried out op­er­a­tions like pro­fes­sion­ally trained men.

“They don’t run, they don’t panic,” he said.

Ponce has urged the po­lice chiefs of Pateros and the south­ern po­lice district “to do some­thing” about the Bon­net Gang.

Pateros po­lice chief Joel Vil­lanueva said one sus­pected gang mem­ber had been ar­rested and 11 oth­ers iden­ti­fied.

One evening in De­cem­ber, Kim, a call-cen­tre worker, saw four men on two mo­tor­bikes stop on a crowded Pateros street, shoot two peo­ple and speed away.

“I was shak­ing when I got home,” said Kim, 23, who wouldn’t give her sec­ond name.

Michael Almeda, 39, was sleep­ing when eight hooded men on four mo­tor­bikes ar­rived out­side his fam­ily’s wooden house at about 2.30am.

The men kicked in the door, dragged Michael out­side and shot him eight times, said his brother Rey.

Ponce said he at­tended the wake of ev­ery Bon­net Gang vic­tim to com­fort the be­reaved and ex­plain that “we can­not con­trol th­ese things hap­pen­ing right now”.

A lawyer by train­ing, Ponce said may­ors hadn’t been shown Duterte’s list of narco-politi­cians, which was kept by the De­part­ment of the In­te­rior and Lo­cal Govern­ment.

Ul­ti­mately, says Ponce, only Duterte has the power to halt the ac­tiv­i­ties of the Bon­net Gang.

“Who­ever th­ese peo­ple are,” he said, “it’s still in the hands of the pres­i­dent to stop this.” Reuters

Why? Be­cause from day one... we have not ar­rested any­one. That is why peo­ple are think­ing they are po­lice of­fi­cers. IKE PONCE Mayor of Pateros town

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