Papa, who will love me?

CHAPTER 2

Men have died and continue to die; and yet most have been killed for sins they have not yet been proven to be guilty of. Were they really drug pushers? Were they drug addicts who stole, murdered, and raped? Did they really pull out a gun and fight back? All remains questionable. But one thing isn’t: for most of the children these men left behind, according to the social workers that interviewed them, they would say that they lost their favorite person in the world, they lost the person who would take them for walks at the Quezon City Memorial Circle, they lost their trusted ally.

For the couple Ronald and Hera, wedding bells were finally in order, and their two little children, Joyce and Henry, couldn’t have been any happier for them. Their Tatay Ronald was kind, generous, and he never failed to put food on the table, according to the stories told to the social workers.

In just a few more months, their parents were finally going to get married. But the wedding never came. The sound of wedding bells ringing was the only noise they were meant to hear—not their neighbors shouting “Patay na si Ronald (Ronald is dead)!”, not the cries during the funeral that came after that, not the deafening silence of eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner next to that one empty seat in the dining table, not the sound of a door banging closed as their mother ran out their house and out of their lives. Hera couldn’t stay in a place with so many memories of the man she was supposed to marry.

In just a few more months, they were supposed to officially become a family. But there the children were instead: fatherless, motherless, helpless to the situation. They are now staying with their 69-year-old grandmother, Lola Kyla.

Jake, a young father of one, just wanted to go home and feed his then 8-months-old son. It was late in the evening but his wife and son were most probably still awake waiting for him.

Tahan na, Baby Jackson, pauwi na si Papa. Umalis lang siya para bumili ng gatas.

Tahan na, Baby Jackson, pauwi na si Papa. Meron lang muna siyang mga inasikaso.

Tahan na, Baby Jackson, pauwi na si Papa. Dumaan lang siya kina lolo at lola para mag-goodnight.

(There, there, Baby Jackson, Papa is on his way. He just went out to buy your milk.
There, there, Baby Jackson, Papa is on his way. He just needed to run some errands first.
There, there, Baby Jackson, Papa is on his way. He just dropped by lolo and lola’s house nearby to say good night.)

Jake was able to buy milk and was already on his way back home to Jackson when 15 masked men—some in police uniforms, others in civilian clothes—suddenly barged into his parents’ house for a buy-bust operation, or so they say. Down on their knees and with guns pointed at them, Jake and his own father, Tatay Fred, screamed and begged for their lives, according to the family members when they told the social workers. But not a few minutes later, both of them were dead. Jake was last seen clutching a box of formula milk to his chest.

There, there, Baby Jackson, his mother soothed him for the thousandth time that night.

On the commemoration of her husband and son’s first death anniversary, Nanay Jane, Tatay Fred’s wife and Jake’s mother, shared to the crowd how Tatay Fred would always be the one to stay at home and take care of the children. While she was busy at work, Tatay Fred took Jake’s four younger siblings to school in the morning and fetched them in the afternoon every single day.

The family didn’t have much money to spend, a variety of toys to play with, nor a mansion of a house to live in, but what the children did have were lice-free hair courtesy of their father. Like little children lining up to their godparents to receive gifts on Christmas Day, Tatay Fred’s children would line up to him to get their hair checked and their head lice picked off—their father’s very own gesture of love. He would routinely do this to each of them no matter how old they got, maybe even more so to his teenage girls, Nanay Jane fondly recalled. Sam and Noli, the younger boys, never had to be scolded by their teachers for exceeding the required hair length in school because their father was always there to cut it for them. Healthy scalp, trimmed hair, and even cut and groomed nails—so was the service and love every child of Tatay Fred received. Even Nanay Jane admitted that her husband served their children in a way she could never compete with.

When a day had already passed and his family still weren’t able to eat anything, when Nanay Jane’s salary simply wasn’t enough, Tatay Fred was forced to score illegal drugs for people who did not know where to find some, according to Nanay Jane when she spoke to the social workers. “Kalam ng bituka (It was out of hunger),” stressed Nanay Jane. However, he stopped and soon surrendered himself, even before President Rodrigo Duterte was officially inaugurated, when he was promised a second chance by barangay officials. He found himself a decent job and even served as barangay tanod for a while. He did all of it because he was a husband and a father who did not want to be taken away from his wife and children.

“Pagkalipas noon, mga ilang buwan, ‘di namin sukat akalain na sa pagsuko niya, ikakapahamak pa naming buhay (From then on, after a few months had passed, never did we think that him surrendering would endanger our lives),said Nanay Jane.

Like most drug-related killings in urban poor communities, Ronald, Jake, and Tatay Fred were shot dead inside their houses or out in the streets in the middle of the night. Meanwhile, their family members were dragged away from the scene but were close enough to still hear the gunshots, or they were simply left to stand as witnesses to everything. But for Ronald’s children, Joyce and Henry, and for Tatay Fred’s wife, Nanay Jane, and their remaining four children, they were present when they lost not just one, but actually two of the most important people in their lives.

According to Fr. Daniel Pilario, C.M., the Director of Project SOW, these children viewed these men entirely different from what they hear around the people around them. In a talk, Pilario said, “They [the victims] are not rapists. They are, in fact, fathers who can bring spaghetti, no matter how difficult, for a daughter who is celebrating her birthday.”

“Call them drug addicts. Call them animals. Call them less than human, but for these children, they are always their loving father,” said Pilario.