BANGKOK — Luzviminda Siapo is telling me about the day her 19-year-old son was killed — that was just seven months ago.
He was dragged from his home by 14 masked men and shot in the head twice. Witnesses say he was ordered to run for his life before being shot. "He just couldn't run, he had club feet," Luzviminda told me.
I met Luzviminda along with The Philippines Human Rights Commissioner, Leah Tanodra-Armamento. The pair were visiting Thailand last month, sharing stories of Filipinos killed in the country's so-called ‘war on drugs."
It's been 16 months since Rodrigo Duterte became President of the Philippines. Since then, thousands of suspected drug users and dealers have been killed in drive-by shootings and random attacks, in a wave of state sanctioned violence. President Duterte has rejected domestic and international calls for accountability, denying government responsibility for the deaths.
Frustrated by the lack of justice within the country, Filipino human rights campaigners are looking abroad to find solutions, and have recently connected with Filipinos living in Thailand. Marion Cabrera is one such person, part of a group called ANAK, or Advocacy Network Against Killings. They hope that they can learn from the Thai experience.
Striking similarities between the two countries
Thai academic and human rights advocated Sriprapha Petcharamesree also met with the Filipino advocates, explaining that Thailand suffered 2000 extrajudicial killings within just a three-month span in 2003. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had declared drugs the nation's No. 1 enemy, and waged his own bloody campaign.
Petcharamesree said that an official investigation in 2007 found that "more than half of those killed had no connection whatsoever with drugs."
Hearing such information, Filipino activists see striking similarities between the two countries. In both Thailand and the Philippines, strongmen leaders with strong popular support have encouraged extrajudicial killings. Few have been charged with the killings.
But in Thailand, Shinawatra eventually caved to domestic opposition against the killings. Thailand's former Minister of Justice Paiboon Koomchaya believes Thailand's harsh crackdown was a total failure. "Massive arrests and harsh punishment, it just lead to a massive loss of lives," he said. "And now every country faces the same problem: overcrowded jails."
Even though the killings have ended in Thailand, the problem isn't over. The number of inmates jailed for drug convictions in Thailand has almost doubled over the past decade.
Thailand now has the eighth-highest incarceration rate in the world according to the Institute for Criminal Policy Research, with a prison population of more than 300,000, and some 70% doing time for drug-related offenses.