Human rights groups welcomed the decision of the Philippines’ Court of Appeals favoring the correction of the cause of death entry in the death certificate of Lenin Baylon, a casualty of the government’s “war on drugs”
“It is time to correct what is wrong,” said Rodrigo Baylon, Lenin’s father.
Nine-year-old Lenin, who was playing with friends at the time of his death, was hit by a “stray bullet” during a drug-related shootout in Caloocan City on Dec. 2, 2016.
Instead of gunshot wounds, Lenin’s death certificate said he died of bronchopneumonia.
Rodrigo recalled that the incident happened three days before his son’s birthday, when three masked vigilantes ran after alleged drug suspects.
Several gunshots were fired, wounding one child, killing the two initial targets, and Lenin, who was declared dead on arrival in the hospital.
To release Lenin’s body, Rodrigo said that they were compelled to sign a waiver agreeing to alter the cause of death of his son. Otherwise, they had to pay a huge expense for the autopsy of his son.
“The death certificate was a lie,” said the father. They took advantage of our fear,” said Rodrigo, adding that they could not afford to pay for an expensive autopsy and funeral services.
With menial jobs, Rodrigo, 70, worked hard to support his family. Lenin is the youngest among the 13 children of Rodrigo and his late wife Josephine who died in 2014.
As a thoughtful and loving child, Lenin even earned his own allowance by folding linens in their neighbor’s sewing business.
Rodrigo said the court decision was a small victory, considering that there are thousands more who were killed and deserve justice.
In 2020, the Caloocan Regional Trial Court initially denied the petition, but the family insisted on a higher court.
Lawyer Mario Maderazo said that the act of falsification in official records is a “revictimization” of those who were killed by the anti-drug campaign.
The Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services (IDEALS) has been providing legal assistance to the Baylon family since 2019.
Among the families of drug war-related killings, Baylon was the first one to challenge the false death certificates.
Last June, Reuters reported that at least 15 other victims have also had falsified death records to cover up for the “extrajudicial killings” under the administration of former president Rodrigo Duterte.
“We call upon the Philippine government and its agents for an effective and independent investigation of all alleged extrajudicial killings,” said lawyer Ansheline Bacudio.
“We press for accountability and we demand what is right for the people,” said the lawyer who is program manager of IDEALS.
Based on a 2021 survey that IDEALS conducted, 49 out of 97 respondents claimed that no government agency conducted any sort of investigation or questioning on the killings.
Bacudio said stronger mechanisms for protection of victims, their families, and potential witnesses while seeking justice and accountability must be prioritized.
Lawyer Jazmin Navarro Regino, Human Rights Protection Cluster director of the Commission on Human Rights, assured the families that the commission is open to help the families in pursuing the cases.
Since 2017, IDEALS has documented 727 human rights violations, 392 of which were killings.
Data showed that most victims are often males residing in urban poor areas, many of them breadwinners with families relying on them for sustenance.
The International Criminal Court last year announced that it would pursue an investigation of suspected crimes against humanity citing about 30,000 killings from the brutal drug war.