After the death of their parents, none of their neighbors showed up to support them. When Tatay Romy, the father who came home for his daughter’s birthday, died, Lola Rowena, his mother and now the guardian of his seven children, shared to Project SOW how hurt she was that no one attended the funeral.
Despite the kindness Ronald showed to all of his neighbors, Lola Kyla told Project SOW’s social workers that not a single soul mourned with the family. All the children were there, crying and standing in front of the coffin, with only their closest relatives and a priest to grieve with them. Some of the women in the community would come, but men wouldn’t show up because of fear.
“Noong buhay pa anak ko, mabait ‘yang si Romy. Wala silang masasabi, pero dahil sa takot ayaw nila kami kausapin (When my son was still alive, Romy was kind to all. They can’t say anything wrong about him but because they’re scared now they won’t talk to us anymore),” Lola Rowena said. The community was too terrorized and afraid to have the same fate come upon them that their friends and neighbors wouldn’t even dare pass by their houses.
In the community itself, not only is fear attached to the family, but another layer of stigma as well. According to Nardy Sabino, whispers of, “Adik kasi eh (He was a drug addict, that’s why),” would spread through houses.
Their own neighbors would even be the ones to condemn the death of another person in their community who’s accused of involvement with drugs, said Fr. Danny Pilario, C.M., the Director of Project SOW, “Mabuti na lang ‘yon, Father (Serves them right, Father),” they would tell Pilario.
Mothers, at the beginning, wanted to keep the death of their husbands a secret until they could think of a proper way of explaining the entire situation to the children. They wouldn’t say that the fathers were dead. Instead, they would say, “Hindi na babalik si Papa mo (You’re father will not be returning anymore).” Despite the pretensions, the children still found out through their neighbors and schoolmates. Not only were they told by someone else about the deaths of their fathers, but they had to suffer harsh bullying as the kids surrounding them would tease them endlessly about how their fathers were drug dealers, saying things such as “Tatay mo adik! Kaya na-Tokhang (You’re father was an addict! That’s why he was targeted by the police)!” The children would fight back and would come home crying to their relatives.
“Huwag ka makipag-away. Makakalimutan din nila ‘yan (Don’t get into fights, they will forget about it soon),” the relatives would tell them. And sure enough, their classmates stopped. “Nakakalimutan nga nila. Sa dami ng namamatay, sa susunod na araw iba na ‘yung pinagchichismisan (They did forget. With so many people dying now, there’s already someone new to gossip about the next day),” Nanay Shirley, whose husband was killed right outside their house with herself and her daughter Sandy as witnesses, said to the social worker.
Even if the bullying had died down, the children still haven’t fully understood what the whole drug war is all about. All they know is that their fathers were killed, with people telling them that their fathers deserved it and that the world is better off without him.
With the involvement of Project SOW and Rise Up, two organizations committed to the rehabilitation and recovery of left-behind families, the children are able to find a support system and a community that share a common experience of loss and tragedy. Gatherings and intervention sessions are conducted by the two organizations for the left-behind families. According to Nanay Shirley’s sharing, Project SOW’s presence alone already strengthens its members.
“Hindi lahat nakakaintindi. Huhusgahan lang kayo, magbibitaw ng masakit na mga salita. Pero nandyan yung parokya na iniintindi nila (Not everyone understands our situation. Other people would judge and say hurtful things, but the Parish is there to listen to us).”
The community of left-behind families are able to draw strength from one another. “Kung sila kaya nila, kakayanin ko rin (If they can do it, so can I).” The children, during every gathering, get to play and are able to bond not over loss or tragedy, but with an innocence and lightheartedness that they are able to share with one another. Fr. John Era, C.M., the head of the psychosocial intervention program for the children of Project SOW, said that the immediate intervention they can provide for the children is to provide a healthy environment for the members and to simply interact, love and care for them. Having someone support them and make them feel like they have a community to rely on already has its therapeutic effects for the children because, “lumalakas loob mo pag may kakampi ka (you become braver when you know that someone is on your side).” Era said that, in a way, these children are gaining back the kakampi (trusted ally) they lost when their father died.
Asked how else can help be offered in the healing of the children, Era answered,
“The best and only way is to love them.”
Through this, Rise Up and Project SOW are able to encourage the neighbors to have more compassion for the families. Pilario, in one instance, was able to persuade the people during Simbang Gabi to help bury one of the dead who was rotting just outside the church. He told the people, “Ano ba yang patay na ‘yan? Diyan na lang ba ‘yan? Wala bang tutulong diyan (What are we going to do with that body? Are we just going to leave it there? Isn’t anybody going to help)?” After that mass, the parishioners went around their community to gather enough money to bury Tatay Toy—Diego, Aldrin, and Amy’s father and the husband of Nanay Jobelle. On that same afternoon, he was finally buried after days of just being there.
Aside from the support offered to the families, the organizations are also able to provide burial, financial, educational, legal, and psychosocial assistance to help the family keep afloat after the tragedy that eclipsed their lives. Capus of Rise Up for Life and for Rights said that while they encourage the families to engage with them and fight for justice, they also understand that it’s hard for the mothers and the widows to participate when time off their work means they wouldn’t earn anything for the day. To address this, Rise Up gave out capital for the mothers to start and run their own business, Tarung Turmeric and Coffee. “Tarung” came from the word katarungan which means justice. The mothers come together to cook the products and then they sell it to the different communities that Rise Up visits or during the events that the organization holds. Ultimately, the profit is divided among the families involved.
Asked what more could be done for them during a profiling session with Project SOW, the children said that they just wanted to say thank you for all the help that’s being provided to their families. However, thousands more orphans of extrajudicial killings and other drug-related death are out there, and these two organizations can only cater to so much. Lacking in manpower and funds, these organizations are unable to fully implement their planned programs and reach all the victims in the country. With their limited resources, they can only cater to a few areas in the Philippines. Thousands of other children are out there without support, and without proper intervention.
Government intervention is yet to be seen for the children and their families. “Wala nga pong pumunta sa amin na taga-DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) na nagsabing, ‘Uy, taga-DSWD kami. Ano bang pangangailangan niyo diyan?’ Wala (No one from the DSWD approached us to say ‘We’re from DSWD. What kind of assistance do you need?’ Nothing),” said Nanay Jobelle in an interview with a social worker from Project SOW.
In a report by ABS-CBN late last year, Vilma Cabrera, secretary for Operations and Programs Group-Protective Programs of the DSWD, said that that they are fully aware of the issue caused by the campaign against drugs. However, there is still no established program, specifically interventions, for the orphaned children. According to Cabrera, local Social Welfare and Development Officers are primarily responsible for providing this service. But according to Elizabeth Barquilla, the coordinator for extrajudicial cases of the Lupang Pangako Parish and representative to the barangay, the local government has done nothing to help these left-behind families. Cabrera said that the government could provide staff really trained for the orphans’ psychosocial support, but none has been done so far.
Burial assistance, however, has been offered to some of the families but it was service provided to them because they were indigent, not because they were part of the horrific aftermath of the campaign against drugs conducted by the current administration.
The families themselves are hesitant to ask for help from their local governments. After all, it was their own barangay officials that guided the door-to-door operations of the police men.
Barquilla said, “Hindi alam ng police kung walang mag-guiguide sakanila (The police wouldn’t know who to approach if they didn’t have people per locality to guide them).” Thus, the stronger tendency of the family, then, instead of seeking for help, is to hide.