Death Squad Disruptor: Filipino patrols help keep drug killings at bay
By Martin Petty and Eloisa Lopez
MANILA (Reuters) – A dozen women talk and eat late at night before they reach the narrow streets of a suburb of Manila where a death squad was once traveling.
They are the "Women's Patrol", a group of 18 mothers and grandmothers, whose nightly walks through the dimly lit streets of Pateros have helped to keep shadowy armed men behind murders of residents associated with illegal drugs.
Not long after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared war on drugs in 2016 and promised that thousands would die, Pateros was terrorized by hooded attackers and ski masks known locally as the "Bonnet Gang". (Https://reut.rs/2H118PK)
Since the city was paralyzed with fear with 63,000 inhabitants, the women decided to arm themselves with flashlights and patrol their community.
"When we started patrolling, the enthusiasm returned to our community and the fear disappeared. At that time, people were afraid to go out," said Jenny Helo, 39, who leads women through the labyrinth of shops, huts and informal apartments.
"But when they saw how effective we are because we really move in the community, people have regained confidence."
The murderers were not caught.
In the deadliest stages of the process, there were up to four drug-related murders in the Philippines every day, many by armed men who rode pillion motorcycles.
The total number of drug-related killings since Duterte unleashed his drug war is unknown.
Police say she killed 5,400 self-defense suspects during her anti-drug operations, but denies activist claims that elements of the force are involved in the mysterious murders that plagued Pateros and other parts of Manila.
In a written response to Reuters, Duterte's spokesman Salvador Panelo called these "inevitable results" when a government was serious about suppressing illegal drugs.
He attributed the deaths to botched drug deals, lawn wars between drug consortiums, or silenced whistleblowers.
Pateros is now safer and the armed men have left, those who live there say. The women never found out who the hood gang is, Helo said, but they think they thwarted it.
"We disturbed them in what they're doing," she said. "They know we're here to fight what they're doing."
The Pateros police chief, Colonel Simnar Gran, praised the patrols and said the local police had worked closely with them and the mayor to tighten the city's security.
Every night, some officers accompany the women, enforce curfews and smoking bans, and warn people about drugs.
"This can be repeated by other churches," Gran said. "They do this voluntarily without compensation. They are just middle-class people."