By RUTH LUMIBAO
MANILA –A day ahead of All Saints’ Day, relatives of victims of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) held a mass to commemorate their loved ones and to call for an end to President Duterte’s War on Drugs. The mass, held Oct. 31 in San Isidro Labrador Parish in Quezon City, was led by parish priest Fr. Benjamin Alforque and Rise Up for Life and for Rights spokesperson Fr. Gilbert Billena. The mass was followed with a short program in front of Batasan Police Station 6, one of the police stations notorious in tokhang operations.
Families of the victims came from the villages of Bagong Silangan and Batasan in Quezon City, Bagong Silang in Caloocan City, Navotas City, and even as far as Bulacan province and Bicol region.
“Huminto na ako sa pagbibilang ng mga napatay. Kung minsan dito sa simbahan, maririnig ko na lang na may putok sa kabilang bahay, kabilang kanto — isa, dalawa, o tatlo na ang napaslang. Gano’n na ang kalakaran,” Fr. Billena said in his homily.
(I already stopped counting. Sometimes, we would hear gunshots from nearby — one, two, or three people would have already been killed. That’s what happens nowadays.)
“Wala sa batas ng tao, wala sa batas ng ating bansa, at lalo nang wala sa batas ng Diyos ang pamamaslang,” he added.
(“It is not in the law of humankind, not in the law of our country, and most especially not in the law of God to kill people.”)
Human rights groups are unable to provide an exact death toll as more and more killings go unrecorded every day.
Rise Up for Life and for Rights aims to unite relatives and family members of victims of the war on drugs and human rights advocates against extrajudicial killings committed under the Duterte administration. As Fr. Billena explained, Rise Up believes that the solution to the drug problem is to provide basic social services and rehabilitation programs for drug pushers and users.
War on Drugs as ‘organized crime’
As a flagship program of the Duterte administration, local government units first promised to provide rehabilitation to those who surrendered, after threatening the public that those who do not surrender will be killed outright. This turned out to be only a strategy of the police to come up with its list of drug users, who were later targeted in tokhang operations and also by vigilante death squads.
Such was the case of Kim Rojo’s family, whose parents Jenny and Rogelio Rojo were killed in Navotas. On May 16, 11 armed men entered their house, hit her siblings with their guns and asked her father to lie on his stomach. At that time, her mother was sick and bedridden. The armed men whom they believed to be police, demanded her parents to come with them for “verification.” Kim and her siblings found their parents’ corpses in a cemetery. Months before, Jenny surrendered to the police as a drug user in the hope that the Duterte administration could provide rehabilitation.
Operation tokhang has given much power to the police and state agents. The deaths of almost 4,000 drug suspects, whom police claimed were shot dead because they pulled out a gun on them cast doubts on government’s seriousness to resolve the drug problem at its roots. Due process, any trial or justiciable proceeding are not accorded to any person who has surrendered or gets caught. Suspects in drug-related crimes, even those with only minor penalties, end up dead supposedly for “fighting it out” with police.
Angelo Lucca Bisunya, a Bicolano, had a history of drug usage due to depression. He was caught with a small “palara” (tin foil), and eventually a case was filed against him for possession of drug paraphernalia.
Under Section 12 of Republic Act No. 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, this offense is punishable only with imprisonment from six months and one day to four years and a fine ranging from P10,000 to P50,000 ($194 to $970). Without any trial or justiciable proceeding, Angelo was transported from Bicol to Caloocan City. The police did not inform his family about the transfer.
On October 16, Angelo’s family found out that he was killed. By that time, the Caloocan City police was already in contact with the funeral parlor, which refused to have Angelo’s body autopsied. The family had to pay the funeral parlor just to have the body released.
The Caloocan police claimed Angelo died of an infection. The family had the body autopsied two more times: first, it was declared that Angelo died of a heart attack; and it was only in the second and more thorough autopsy that the family learned the truth of his death. The forensics expert found Angelo’s stomach filled with garbage, his legs burnt with cigarette butts, his whole body covered with bruises.
“War on drugs — organized crime pa rin, ‘di ba?” Angelo’s sister said during a short program held in front of Batasan Police Station 6.
Drug usage is not even a common denominator for the killings. Operation tokhang has kille not only those who need rehabilitation but also those who have no history of drug use. The youths are also targeted, like Carl Arnaiz and Kian Delos Santos, respectively 17 and 19 years old, if not indiscriminately taken as victims, to reach what many now suspect as a daily police quota.
Brothers Juan Carlos and Crisanto Antonio Lozano of Batasan, were believed to have met the same fate in the hands of suspected state security forces. According to their mother, they left the house at 5 a.m. on October 11. Their bodies were found the following day, October 12, at 12 n.n. Both had no history of drug use.
For the families and relatives of victims of Duterte’s War on Drugs, every day is a day to mourn the death of their loved ones — mercilessly killed in the hands of the police and under the command of the President. During the mass, they held up lit candles as a sign of their continuous mourning for the brutality of the police and deteriorating justice system of the country.
“Sa araw na ito bilang paggunita sa panahon ng Undas tayong pamilya ng mga biktima ng pamamaslang kasama ng mga taong nagpapahalaga sa buhay ay nagpapahayag ng ating pagkakaisa para sa pagtataguyod ng buhay at ating mga karapatan,” said Nanay Emily, mother of a 16-year old victim of tokhang, in a statement.