“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
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