Releasing the pain | Kin of victims of gov’t war on drugs overcome sorrow through dance

Members of the group Rise for Rights and Life on stage of the People's SONA 2017 (Photo by Dee Ayroso/Bulatlat)
Members of the group Rise for Rights and Life on stage of the People’s SONA 2017 (Photo by Dee Ayroso/Bulatlat)

A group of families of victims of drug-related killings use art to move on and seek justice.


MANILA — “Nanay Nel” (name withheld upon request) was on the brink of crying at the back of a stage on Batasan Road. It was the first time for her and other relatives of victims of the government’s war on drugs to perform, and it was in a protest attended by some 40,000 people.

Their faces painted white, they mustered up courage and set foot on the stage. “I just thought: this is for my son,” she told Bulatlat in an interview.

Nanay Nel and other kin of victims of drug-related summary executions are members of the group Rise Up for Rights and for Life, and they danced at the program of the People’s State of the Nation (Sona) on Monday, July 24.

Their performance, she said, was about waiting for loved ones to come home. “But I am waiting for no one now. I am just waiting for justice. That is why I am so sad, he was my only son,” she said. Her son was 28 years old when he was killed leaving behind three children and a wife.

Photo by A. Umil/ Bulatlat
Photo by A. Umil/ Bulatlat

“Marami nang gabing hinihintay-hintay ang pagbabalik mo sa ulilang bahay. Hindi ka dumarating. Ang pintong bubuksan, nananatiling pinid sa gabing mapanglaw,” strained the song “Tagulaylay ng ulilang lubos,” (Dirge of an orphan) originally sang by the late activist-musician Susan Fernandez.

Cultural artist and choreographer Edwin Quinsayas of Sining Kadamay (Sikad) who danced with the Rise Up members on stage said the performance was the result of a four-day movement workshop for empowerment held in Redemptorist Church in Baclaran.

Photo by A. Umil/ Bulatlat
Photo by A. Umil/ Bulatlat

Rise Up for Rights and for Life, a network of church organizations and sectors against drug-related extrajudicial killings (EJKs) and violations, initiated the workshop and tied up with Sikad and another group called Resbak, or Respond and Break the Silence against the Killings, an alliance of artists against EJKs.

Quinsayas said one of the challenges to the participants of the workshop was to perform in the SONA protest, which was all about seeking accountability of the Duterte administration for its violations of the people’s rights.

Photo by A. Umil/ Bulatlat
Photo by A. Umil/ Bulatlat

The movement workshop, he said, was also one way of overcoming trauma and fear in a creative way.

“One of the advocacies of the workshop is to use art to address issues,” Quinsayas told Bulatlat in an interview. He said art can be used as a tool for healing, and movement can serve as their voice.

Although relatives are gripped with fear as many are also threatened to keep quiet, Quinsayas said it was not difficult to convince them to perform on stage. He said they were grounded and strengthened by a series of awareness-raising and political discussions on the root causes of poverty and the reason many from the poor turn to substance abuse. The support given to the relatives by different sectors and individuals who are against the war on drugs was also a factor, he said.

Photo by A. Umil/ Bulatlat
Photo by A. Umil/ Bulatlat

Quinsayas said the performance tells about the longing for a demised loved one and the agony of seeking justice. But the performance ended on a hopeful note, said Quinsayas, as the dancers embraced each other smiling, which symbolizes the strength of coming together as one to fight for justice.

He hopes that this performance would inspire others to also come out and demand justice.

Nanay Nel said it helped her to release her pain. She finds it hard to move on after her son’s death. She blames herself for what happened. “He has no father and I am often at work that is why maybe he turned to drugs because he has no one to turn to,” she said.

“Masakit lalo na yung paulit-ulit na pinapakwento sa akin anong nangyari sa anak ko, tagos hanggang puso’t kaluluwa (It hurts to tell repeatedly what happened to my son, it wrenches my heart and my soul),” she said tearfully.

Photo by A. Umil/ Bulatlat
Photo by A. Umil/ Bulatlat

What is hurting her more is the fact that her 10-month-old grandson will also grow up without a father. That is why, she said, she will do everything to help his son’s family as long as she lives.

“Aida,” (not her real name) whose husband was killed, said their performance is also one way of expressing their call for justice.

“The last part that we all smiled is a message to Duterte that we will not be discouraged. We will fight for justice,” she said, adding the loss of their loved ones does not mean their lives have also stopped.

She said her husband’s family has lost faith in the country’s justice system, especially because the perpetrators are suspected police men, the authority. But Aida has not lost hope.

“Someday we will attain justice,” she said.

(Photos are blurred to keep the subjects’ identity hidden.)

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