A five-year-old girl has become the youngest victim of tough-talking Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs” that has left more than 1900 people dead in seven weeks.
Danica May died from a gunshot wound to the head after unidentified gunmen opened fire on her family as they sat down to lunch in their home in Dagupan, a city of 170,000 north of Manila.
The killing came as president Duterte shrugged off criticism of his campaign from the United States, United Nations, the Catholic Church and human rights groups, declaring “this fight against drugs will continue until the last day of my term”.
Little Danica’s grandfather, Maximo Garcia, who she was living with after her 29-year-old mother separated from her husband, learnt last week that he was on a list of alleged drug suspects that somebody had given to local police.
He was shocked, his wife Gemma told the Inquirer newspaper, because he was only a tricycle driver, had suffered a stroke three years ago and had never been involved in drugs.
On the advice their village chief, Mr Garcia surrendered to police rather than risk being shot on sight on the President’s orders for police to use deadly force if suspects don’t give themselves up. He was questioned and allowed to return home.
But three days later, gunmen came to his house behind a small eatery in a flood-prone area, shooting Mr Garcia as he fled to the back of the house. Danica was hit and later died in hospital. .
Mr Garcia is in hospital with gunshot wounds to his stomach.
“This is so painful for us,” Mrs Garcia said, adding she cannot understand why anybody would want her husband killed.
“I will miss the nights when Danica would massage us until we fell asleep. I will miss her laughter.”
More than 600,000 drugs suspects have surrendered since early July, many of them packing the country’s already overcrowded jails.
There are reports of dozens of others being attacked after being allowed to return to their homes.
More than 650 people have been killed since June in battles with police officers and more than 1000 others have been killed by vigilantes, who often leave cardboard signs declaring their victims to be drug pushers.
As the bodies pile up, the Philippine Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre has refused calls to launch an impartial investigation into the deaths, which include more than 1000 at the hands of unknown assailants or vigilantes.
“Desperate times call for desperate measures. So this is what the president is doing and we support it,” he said.
But human rights groups say many of the killings are linked to local politics, crime and rivalries.
Mr Duterte, 71, built a reputation as a ruthless crime fighter in Davao, where he was mayor, before he was swept into power in May promising to wipe out the illegal drugs trade within months.
He has responded to a senate committee’s hearings into extra-judicial killings by launching an attack on its head, Senator Leila De Lima, accusing her of taking bribes from jailed drugs lords.
“De Lima you are finished,” he told reporters.
But Ms De Lima hit back, calling on the President to “stop this madness”.
“It’s as if this war against drugs has turned into a war versus De Lima … it’s like he’s really hell bent on destroying me at all costs. I hope he stops it.”
Despite the killings opinion polls show Mr Duterte’s approval rating hovering around 90 per cent in a country with one of Asia’s biggest crime rates and highest use of illicit drugs.
Mr Duterte up-ended politics and his country’s international diplomacy, calling the US ambassador of “son of a whore”, promising a hero’s burial for the late corrupt dictator Ferdinand Marcos and complicating attempts by regional nations to preserve a common front against China’s aggressive claim to the South China Sea.