Philippine drug war victim's father wins case to correct son's death certificate
Pictures and clothes of drug war victim Lenin Baylon are displayed during a news conference after an appeals court granted a petition to correct the death certificate of the nine-year-old boy who was killed in a drug-related shooting in 2016, at the Commission on Human Rights in Quezon City, Philippines, December 5, 2022. Reuters

A Philippine appeals court granted a father's petition to correct the death certificate of his nine-year old son, bringing to a close his years-long quest for justice for the boy who was killed in a drug-related shooting.

Rodrigo Baylon's son, Lenin, was killed by stray bullets on Dec. 2, 2016, in Caloocan City in a shooting that also killed two women, according to a police report. But Lenin's death certificate had said he died from bronchopneumonia.

Lenin was not the only victim whose death certificate did not accurately reflect the violent manner in which police and family members said they died, a Reuters investigation found. Reuters documented at least 14 other cases of death certificates that said the deceased had succumbed to natural causes such as pneumonia or hypertension instead of saying they were shot.

Erroneous death records obscure the true toll of the war on drugs.

Baylon had sought to correct his son's death certificate but a lower court rejected his request in 2019, forcing him to file an appeal. The Court of Appeals last month sided with him and ordered the local civil registry to change the cause of death to "gunshot wound".

"This is a small victory," Baylon told a media briefing on Monday as he recalled his son's killing, which happened just a few months after newly elected President Rodrigo Duterte unleashed his bloody 'war on drugs'.

Lawyer Mario Maderazo of the Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services (IDEALS) said it was important for records to be corrected or else they would become a "legal barrier" to finding justice for victims.

Baylon said the death of his son, who would have turned 15 on Dec. 5, exposed "lapses" in the former president's brutal anti-narcotics campaign, which according to official data, has killed 6,252 small-time drug suspects as of May 2022.

Rights groups have accused Duterte of inciting deadly violence and said police have murdered unarmed drug suspects on a massive scale as part of the campaign.

Police have denied this, and Duterte said police were under orders to kill only in self-defence.

IDEALS said Lenin's case forms part of submissions to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has been asked by a prosecutor to resume its investigation into the drug war killings.