Speaking out for drug war victims, Filipina fears for her safety
When police shot to death Harra Kazuo’s common-law husband and his father following a drug raid in the Philippines, she sought one thing: justice.
In a television interview shortly after their deaths in July, the 26-year-old mother accused two officers of killing them in cold blood. She then recounted the allegations before a Philippine Senate committee investigating the country’s brutal drug war in testimony broadcast nationwide.
What Kazuo has gotten instead, though, is a life lesson in the consequences of speaking out. Today, she lives with her three children in hiding, sheltered by an extraordinary witness protection programme run by the country’s independent Commission on Human Rights, which has feared for her safety while it investigates the case.
That such a programme exists is powerful indictment of the lack of trust many here have in the country’s notoriously corrupt police, who are spearheading an anti-drug campaign that has left more than 4,000 people dead in just a few months. It also illustrates the failures of a broken justice system few believe can hold anyone to account.
Kazuo said she is pushing the case because “what is happening is not right”.
“I want them to feel how they treated my husband,” she said. “I want them to feel what it’s like for a family to lose a loved one.”
Although both officers have been suspended and have attended preliminary hearings, city prosecutor Orlando Mariano said they remain free and neither has been indicted. If prosecutors determine the evidence is too weak, both men could be end up being absolved.
Jose Luis Martin ‘Chito’ Gascon, who directs the Manilabased rights commission, said no police have been charged criminally in court since the drug war began despite persistent reports of security forces summarily executing drug suspects. National police spokesman Dionardo Carlo, however, said police have been arrested and charged, but he could offer no details. Either way, the killing of Kazuo’s family members “is the highest profile case we’ve had so far, and it’s not even in court yet” Gascon said. “So what do you think’s going to happen to the rest – the ones that got no attention and have already been forgotten?” President Rodrigo Duterte unleashed his campaign to rid the country of narcotics immediately after taking office on June 30. The effort has been praised by a population exasperated by corruption and crime, but it has been condemned by the United Nations and activist groups because of its staggering death toll.
SCARED: Harra Kazuo