“Tangina niyo! Tangina niyo (You sons of bitches! You sons of bitches)!” Sunshine cursed at the two men who killed both her parents right in front of her and all her younger siblings—only to be silenced by the muzzle of the gun pointed at her with one of the men threatening to shoot her next if she didn’t shut up. And then they left her, Tita Gabriella, the aunt who took Sunshine in after the tragic incident, said to the social workers; just like that, with her infant brother covered in his father’s blood as he still laid on his father’s chest, with Sunshine holding her mother’s body, and when the body twitched, she hoped her mother was still alive. Sunshine tried to help her, tried to stop the bleeding from her mother’s head, but her hand just slipped in. Her mother was dead in her arms.
With the sentiments that the mothers and the widows of those who have been killed shared during the processing sessions, it is clear for them where the injustices lie.
“Sabi nila ang addict, mamamatay-tao. Ano ba ginagawa ng mga pulis ngayon? Anong pinagkaiba ng pulis sa addict? (They say drug addicts are murderers, but what are the police doing right now? What’s the difference between police officers and drug addicts?)” demanded Nanay Jane with conviction that only a woman who had lost her husband and her son could have. With all her heart, Lola Kyla, the mother of Ronald who should’ve been married by now, believes that her son had stopped using drugs the moment he became a father. She said her son did not deserve what was done to him. “Pinatay nang parang manok… ‘Pag pumatay ka ng manok wala namang maghahanap eh, walang aalma (He was killed like a chicken...When chickens are killed, nobody bothers to look for them, nobody complains),” Lola Kyla said.
“Kung meron mang kasalanan ‘yung anak ko, bakit ‘di nila binigyan ng pagkakataong mababago? Bakit hindi idinaan sa tamang proseso? (If my son did something wrong, why didn’t they give him a chance to change his ways? Why wasn’t a proper procedure followed?)” said Lola Eliza, another mother whose son left for work one day and never came back.
Having lived in communities where illegal drugs abound and having experienced some of its negative effects firsthand, these people are aware that there is a drug problem and it should certainly be eradicated. They are also aware, however, that killing people, especially the poor, is not the solution. “Bakit kami pa yung pinahihirapan? Mahirap kami. Dapat kami yung tulungan, hindi patayin, ‘di ba (Why are they making us suffer? We are poor. Instead of killing us, shouldn’t they be helping us?)” asked Nanay Jobelle, a struggling widow and mother to Diego, Aldin, and Amy. This coming December will be the second Christmas that she and her children will have to celebrate without Tatay Toy.
Meanwhile, Lola Olivia, grandmother and guardian to three orphaned children, sees no sense in targeting small-scale drug sellers when the main sources of such products could easily just find replacements for them. “Paano nakakabili ‘yung mga maliliit kung wala ‘yung malalaki (How are the small ones able to buy if there aren’t any big fishes who supply them with it)?” she asked during a session with a social worker.
“Saan ka nakakita ng war on drugs pero nakapasok ang 6.4 bilyon (What kind of war on drugs is this when 6.4 billion worth of it was able to enter the country)?” scoffed Sunshine’s Tita Gabriella, referring to how a shipment of PHP6.4 billion worth of shabu, the Filipino slang term for methamphetamine, from China was able to get past the Philippine Bureau of Customs and into the country last May.
Social worker Agong Capus of Rise Up for Life and for Rights, a network in defense of life and human rights against drug-related extrajudicial killings and violations, says it is important for the government to cut the real source of drugs in the Philippines. At the same time, drug addiction should be considered a health issue and not a crime.
“Hindi siya dapat pinapaslang, ginagamot siya (They are not supposed to be killed, they are supposed to be treated),” she said in an interview.
Capus echoes the sentiments of the families in supporting the aim of the campaign against illegal drugs. But she says it must be handled in a way that saves innocent people’s lives while also addressing the root of the situation: poverty and the lack of opportunities to overcome it. Putting things into perspective, she shares the story of a Payatas trash collector who takes shabu, to help him endure the intense smell of the dumpsite. This way, he could work longer hours and earn more money for the day.
“Hindi yan simpleng ‘pinili lang namin ito kasi gusto naming yumaman’, kundi usapin ‘yan ng paano maiaahon sa mas may dignidad na pamumuhay ang bawat isa sa kanilang pamilya (It’s not as simple as ‘we chose this because we want to be rich,’ but rather it was a way for them to elevate the lives of each of their family members to a more dignified one),” said Capus. Because of the complexity of the issue, its solution cannot be found in a strategy as simple as killing off those affected by it. To solve this, Capus wants to the government to “show more heart.”
Honor the right to life, honor the right to due process because people are innocent until proven guilty, build more drug rehabilitation centers, support and provide jobs for the poor so they would not have to resort or revert back to doing crime, and of course, most urgent right now is to create concrete social welfare programs for the families left behind by the victims of drug-related deaths—these are the necessary steps towards the solution. As an organization, Rise Up acknowledges that to do all of this is no easy task. “But isn’t that why the government has control over all the country’s resources—so that they would be able to take it on?” asked Capus. Amidst all the uncertainty that lies ahead for these widows and mothers, this is the one thing they hold to be true.
But for a 12-year-old girl who has lost the only adults in her life, who is left to help her make sense of the tragedy she is now forced to live? Sunshine grew angry towards her family’s aggressors, wishing those two men dead along with all their loved ones. When that didn’t amount to anything, she started blaming herself. Why didn’t she do anything? Was there even something she could have done?
“Si Papa kasi, hindi pa tumigil (This is Papa’s fault, he didn’t stop using drugs),” Sunshine repeatedly cried to her social workers—as if that justifies the killing of her parents and that of the 12,000 other victims to the drug war in the Philippines.