The police narrative sounded all too familiar: The suspect had ignored a police checkpoint, lost control of his motorbike, and pulled a .45-caliber Colt at the pursuing cops.
He had fought back — “nanlaban.” Afterwards, according to the police, a sachet of illegal drugs was recovered on the body.
The suspect had been allegedly involved in four robbery cases in Pangasinan where he was shot dead.
The dead man was a boy, Joshua Laxamana, 17 years old, the latest teenager to die in the government’s war against drugs.
A Facebook post by former Reuters and now freelance photographer Ezra Acayan, however, disputed the police story and recounted a different tale, about three young friends who decided on Aug. 14 to go up to Baguio from their hometown in Tarlac to search for a Dota (Defense of the Ancients) gaming tournament.
Not having any money, they decided to hitch a ride on a truck, which dropped them off in Pangasinan after the driver decided to change his route.
The three — Laxamana, Julius Sebastian and another friend — were forced to head back home on foot.
When the third guy decided to rest, the two went ahead. The pair never made it home.
Four days later, Laxamana’s mother Kristine found her son’s bullet-riddled body in a morgue in Pangasinan, and heard the police’s version of events. They even showed her what they claimed was Laxamana’s motorbike.
But Joshua didn’t drive a motorbike, much less own one, the mother protested. And why did the police know his name when he didn’t have any ID on him? Had they interviewed him before he was shot? she asked.
Friends and other gamers have come out to confirm that Laxamana was indeed a top Dota player in the region who used the in-game alias “imadotes,” and was set to join international Dota tournaments.
How could he have been involved in a “police shootout”?
The cops pointed to a tattoo that supposedly confirmed Laxamana as a “notorious burglar.” But gamers said it was, in fact, a tattoo of the “Queen of Pain” avatar from Dota 2.
Laxamana is the latest name in the growing list of youngsters caught in the government’s “chilling and relentless” war on illegal drugs.
According to the advocacy group Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center (CLRDC), at least 74 minors were killed in police operations and vigilante-style attacks from July 2016 to December 2017 alone.
President Duterte has dismissed the cases as “collateral damage.” But CLRDC’s documentation and interviews with victims’ families and witnesses have revealed that some children were included in the so-called drug watch list prepared by police and barangay officials. And some were killed just after they had left juvenile detention centers.
Two of the most prominent cases last year were those of Kian Loyd delos Santos, 17, who was killed by members of the Caloocan City police, and Reynaldo “Kulot” de Guzman, 14, who was fished out of a creek in Nueva Ecija province, his head wrapped in plastic and his body bearing 30 stab wounds.
Public outrage exploded over the two killings, especially when forensic experts told a Senate hearing that Delos Santos was either kneeling or lying facedown when he was shot dead at close range near his home in Caloocan, during a police antidrug operation in August last year.
The loss of public trust in the police has been stark, as reflected in a Social Weather Stations survey in June 2017, which said 50 percent of respondents felt that many victims were falsely identified by their enemies as drug users and pushers, and were then killed by police or shadowy vigilantes.
The survey predated the killings of Delos Santos and De Guzman by two months, so that number would have gone up to even more problematic levels for the police force — if it cared at all about its public standing.
Kian, 17. Kulot, 14. Joshua, 17. And so many more young Filipinos somehow ending up dead after mysterious encounters with the police.
Many more of them will die, and many more families will endure the unendurable grief of seeing their kids’ lives somehow snuffed out by the very state forces tasked to protect them, until the administration — and the citizenry — finally have had enough of this bloody, brutal folly.
While a family and community mourn for Laxamana, his friend Sebastian remains missing. He is 15 years old.
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