Manila: When the image of Jennelyn Olaires weeping as she cradled the body of her slain husband went viral in the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte called it melodramatic.
There’s not much Duterte hasn’t said when it comes to his war on drugs, his only real election platform and his big promise to the 16 million Filipinos who swept him to power in May by a massive margin.
And ‘the punisher’, as he is known, has been true to his word.
Hundreds of suspected drug dealers have been killed since Duterte took office just one month ago. Six were assassinated in a single night in Manila, among them Michael Siaron, Olaires’s 29-year-old husband who was shot dead by unknown assailants on motorcycles.
“A friend called out that Michael was shot. I ran out to see him,” Olaires, 26, said in a rundown part of the capital’s Pasay area, with its ubiquitous slums, squatters and thieves.
“Thoughts were running in my mind. It can’t be you. You don’t deserve this. There are others who deserve this more than you,” she said, recalling the moment she discovered his body.
“If I only have wings, I will quickly fly to his side.”
Photographers surrounded her behind a police cordon as she held his body. A piece of cardboard was left next to his corpse with the word ‘pusher’ written on it.
Dozens of similar killings have taken place almost daily in the Philippines, but with drugs and crime so deep-rooted, there is barely any public outrage.
Some 316 suspected drug dealers were killed from July 1-27, 195 of which were vigilante killings, according to police. Human rights groups estimate the body count to be at least double the official number.
‘Kill drugs, not people’
Duterte has not condemned vigilante killings. He has previously promoted them.
The tough-talking former mayor of Davao City mentioned the image of Olaires holding her husband in his state of the union address on Monday and said media had tried to portray it as being like the Michelangelo’s Pieta, the sculpture of Mary holding the body of Jesus.
Olaires will bury her husband on Sunday. She concedes he was a drug user but says it is impossible he was a dealer because they were too poor and could barely pay for their next meal.
Siaron made money by riding a pedicab – a bicycle with a sidecar – and did odd jobs.
He even voted for Duterte in the May 9 election.
“They must kill the ones who don’t deserve to live anymore, the ones who are a menace to society. Because they cause harm to others. But not the innocent people,” she said.
“I don’t need the public’s sympathy. I don’t need the president to notice us.”
“I know that he doesn’t like this kind of people. But for me, I just hope that they get the true offenders.”
Asked if she had a message to tell Duterte, she said, “Kill drugs, not people.”