Anguish

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“Andrea” (not her real name), the 10-year old daughter of one of the killed, weeps as she narrates how she saw her father, uncle, and grandfather shot. (Screenshot from abs-cbn.com)

I HAVE BEEN waiting for an update on the Ozamis 9 but there has been none. Last I heard, the relatives and friends of the deceased had traveled to Manila to seek justice. I want to know if they are anywhere near their goal.

It was uniformly reported by the major news outlets that on the night of June 1, police went in “hot pursuit” of a group of alleged robbers who engaged them in a firefight. Nine were killed and six arrested. Several firearms and ammunition were allegedly confiscated from the group in what seemed to be a run of the mill operation.

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The stench fills the air as the corpses lie in the summer heat. They were laid out in the basketball court for 12 hours. (Screenshot from abs-cbn.com)

Several weeks later, ABS-CBN in an exclusive report revealed that following that incident, the nine corpses were laid out in the basketball court in front of the Ozamis City Hall for 12 hours. Residents ogled and relatives wailed as the corpses rotted in the summer heat. When asked by reporters why this was done, Ozamis police chief inspector Jovie Espenido explained that he had put them there “for identification purposes.”  Strange answer, because this was hardly police protocol, and also, the police presumably knew whom they were “hotly pursuing” the day before.

BIRTHDAY PARTY

Relatives tell an entirely different story.

They say that on June 1, one of the Manzano men had a birthday and invited some family and friends to his small celebration. They were a farming clan and it was a simple affair.  According to the witness “Ramon,” five cops intruded on the party at 2 pm, firing their weapons; other plainclothes policemen followed soon after. They rounded up the men and had them kneel. Shortly, they ordered Jerry Manzano to put on his slippers and run. Despite Jerry’s entreaties, the cops insisted that he take off, and when he did, the shots rang out. The shooting didn’t stop until eight lay dead. The other fatality came from another barangay.

One of them had raised his hands in surrender but they killed him anyway. This is how “Andrea,” his 10-year old daughter tells it. She saw it all. She remembers how the cops made her Tito Jerry run before they shot him and how they shot her Lolo as well. The police arrested Carmelita, her Lola, and her mother, Janice. They released Carmelita after 7 days, but are keeping Janice detained for alleged possession of a grenade. Speaking to the reporter, a weeping “Andrea” claims she wants justice for her mama and her dead papa. Her face is contorted in anguish. None of this makes sense.

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Rodel, father of 19-year old Alvin, one of the fatalities. (Screenshot from abs-cbn.com)

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The unnamed wife of one of the killed, a barangay tanod in a neighboring town. (Screenshot from abs-cbn.com)

Rodel doesn’t understand it either. His 19-year old son had only joined the festivities but ended up a casualty with a sullied reputation. The wife of one of the victims also expressed her torment, saying her husband was a law-abiding barangay tanod from a neighboring town and that they didn’t even own a gun. Both of them cried justice.

“Ramon” said that at 4 pm, Espenido arrived and started issuing orders. It was Espenido who had the corpses collected and arrayed under the sun like fish laid out to dry. Told that Espenido did it so they could be identified, “Ramon” countered that before the dead were removed from the crime scene, “Naidentify naman yun samin nung isang kagawad.”

It will be recalled that Espenido was the police chief of Albuera, Leyte who detained the late Mayor Rolando Espinosa before the latter was transferred to and killed in the Baybay City Jail. In the ensuing Senate inquiry, Espenido was named by Kevin Espinosa as a “narco-cop” and was consequently assigned to Ozamis City. Shortly after his move there, Espenido was caught on video mauling an arrested drug suspect. “Ramon” said Espenido is now the “boss” of Ozamis. He implied that this is why he and his relatives had come to Manila to seek help:

“Nananawagan ako na mabigyan ng pansin ang nangyayari samin sa Ozamis. Hindi makatao ang ginawa ni ser samin dun… Para kaming baboy – walang awang pinatay. Sana naman mabigyan kami ng hustisya sa nangyari ng aming pamilya. Pumunta kami dito sa Manila, nagbenta ng mga hayop para lang makarating…kahit di na kami makauwi basta mabigyan lang ng hustisya ang nangyari samin dun.”

 AGONY

According to #RealNumbersPH, there have been nearly 12,500 homicides committed from July 1, 2016 to May 30, 2017. Multiply that by 3 dependents (the average number of children per Filipino household) and we have at least 36,000 individuals whose lives are forever marred by the trauma of violent death.

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A December 2016 Inquirer article on the orphans caused by the war on drugs emphasized the need for immediate post-trauma care to be given to these children (and other family members) to prevent the explosion of further social problems. To this end, DSWD Asec. for protective services Hope Hervilla said that the DSWD would start collating information about drug war orphans in January 2017. “The children, they are the state’s responsibility,” Hervilla said.

However, GMA’s Sandra Aguinaldo has found that the DSWD to date has no program in place for the families of Tokhang victims. At most, it can assist with burial expenses, but not many are aware of this. They currently have no psycho-social facilities specifically available for the families of drug war casualties or for those killed in police operations or by the notorious “riding in tandem.”

In her I-Witness documentary Silang nasa Anino ng Buwan, Aguinaldo narrates in excruciating detail how a father and his three children struggle to carry on after the murder of their wife and mother, Emma. She was plucked from her home while in bed with her children and later found on the Navotas baywalk with one sachet of shabu on her person – another notch on the belt of Rodrigo Duterte’s drug warriors. Emma was snuffed out, thrown on the street like a piece of trash. This is what Duterte has said they are: subhuman riffraff, not worthy of life.

But to her family, Emma was not trash. Her drug use was not established. What is clear is this: she was a mother whose good night kisses her children miss; a wife, lover, and friend whose presence her husband aches for. You can see it in their eyes. But to do that you’ve got to look at them.

If this administration insists on dehumanizing suspected drug users and criminals in general, calling them trash, then the rest of us must insist that they’re not. We’ve got to uphold the innate dignity and value of every human being; we’ve got to give them the respect they’re due, even if they don’t know they deserve it. And if they die, we’ve got to see to it their families are cared for.

Indifference can cause as much injury as hatred. If the state doesn’t care, then we must. Or else a decade from now we may find ourselves in a deeper swamp than we’re in right now. It’s really our choice.

Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.- Mark 9:42

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. – Galatians 6:2  

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