A Stark Choice For Filipino Drug Addicts: Surrender Or Risk Being Killed : Parallels More than 3,000 have been killed in the country's new war on drugs. More than 700,000 have surrendered to police, fearing for their lives. Police say those who surrender and stay clean will be safe.

A Stark Choice For Filipino Drug Addicts: Surrender Or Risk Being Killed

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In the Philippines, the official death toll in President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs has reached 3,000. According to the country's police chief, at least half of those people were killed by police. And more than 700,000 people have surrendered to the police. Michael Sullivan has more from Manila.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Lilibeth Diego lives in Malate in one of Manila's seemingly endless slums, where the people are packed so tightly they often wash and bathe outside. Diego is 53 years old and a meth fiend, she says, since high school.

LILIBETH DIEGO: Every day. Every day (speaking foreign language) 1981.

SULLIVAN: Every day since 1981, she says, and she's got the face and teeth to prove it. She swears she never dealt. A few weeks ago though, after President Duterte launched his war on drugs, she surrendered along with her husband. She says it was an easy choice.

DIEGO: I'm scared to die.

SULLIVAN: So scared to die she went to the precinct, signed some papers, got a briefing and was sent home. She says she's been clean since.

DIEGO: (Speaking Tagalog).

SULLIVAN: "Now that we've surrendered, we're being closely monitored," she says. "If we start using again, the cops will know and they'll come after us."

I go to the precinct station to talk to the commander there, Chief Inspector Paulito Sabulao. He says those who surrender and stay clean are safe. But...

PAULITO SABULAO: (Speaking Tagalog).

SULLIVAN: He says, "I also warn them that if they continue using or deal, they'll be killed."

Here's the thing, though - for all his tough talk, Sabulao's cops haven't killed anybody since the war on drugs began, and that's gotten him in trouble with his bosses.

SABULAO: (Speaking Tagalog).

SULLIVAN: "My colonel was under pressure from his bosses," he says, "and asked me why we haven't killed anybody. And he told me to start killing people who were known drug personalities. But I told him I didn't want to make any mistakes. I need to make sure," Sabulao says, "that these people are really criminals." Other commanders appear less cautious and more eager to follow orders.


SULLIVAN: Three-hundred yards down the street and down another alley, a few dozen mourners gather in front of a coffin - 47-year-old Aristotle Garcia, killed in an encounter with police two nights ago. The cops say he was dealing. His sister, Karen Rana, doesn't buy it.

KAREN RANA: No. He's a user.

SULLIVAN: He didn't deal a little on the side to pay for his own drugs?

RANA: No. And nowadays, with this kind of situation happening everywhere, especially here in Manila, he will not do that.

SULLIVAN: She pulls out her phone and displays the police photo of her brother's body. He's got a .38-caliber revolver in one hand, some crumpled banknotes next to the other. The police report says Garcia was trying to sell drugs to an undercover cop, but got spooked and pulled a gun. The cop, the report says, fired on Garcia in self-defense - six shots to the chest.

RANA: And if he is resisting arrest, if you shot him once, he'll get weak and you don't need to shot him five times another.

SULLIVAN: Was your brother left-handed?


SULLIVAN: Then that gun's in the wrong hand.

RANA: Yes.

SULLIVAN: She says her brother was executed by the police, and her surviving brother Aaron thinks he knows why.

AARON GARCIA: He know all the persons here. He know all the users here. He know all the pushers here.

SULLIVAN: And he's convinced one of them set his brother up. The cops are sticking to their story. There'll be no investigation, and the family's resigned to it. But even in their grief, they say they're not against President Duterte's war on drugs. They only wish the police would be more careful, like Chief Inspector Sabulao, just up the block, who shows me a list with 18 photos and names - alleged dealers, he says, from the community, identified by the community he's almost ready to move on.

SABULAO: (Speaking Tagalog).

SULLIVAN: "I only need them to resist," he says, grinning broadly. "I encourage them to resist because then," he says, "they'll be killed."

For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Manila.

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