Last December 2016, the people from Rise Up asked Sunshine, the child who bore witness to the killings of both her parents, what her Christmas wish was. Most kids would ask for toys or candies, but Sunshine answered, “Sana panaginip lang ‘tong lahat (I wish all of this was just a dream).”
With all the difficulties these children are forced to go through, it’s not hard to imagine why they would wish to just wake up to a place where fathers don’t get killed in front of you, where big men with guns don’t come creeping into the night, where mercy and compassion were practiced and not just words that are promised.
But despite seeing things that no person—let alone a child—should have ever seen nor experienced, Era said “we can never underestimate the resilience of the children.”
Yes, they are hurt, they are lost, but we cannot deny that they are still standing.
And this will to survive, according to Pilario, is already an act of resistance against their abusers.
With just a simple prayer, little 9-year-old Joyce who lost her father and was abandoned by her grieving mother, showed the innocent and yet resilient demeanor she had acquired. During one of the processing sessions with Project SOW, she prayed, “Jesus, sana umuwi na si Mama at makatapos na po ako sa pag-aaral… Sana matanggap na ni Mama na wala na si Papa. Papa, ang wish ko sana maging masaya ka at makita kita (Jesus, I wish that Mama would come home already and that I would be able to finish my schooling. I wish Mama would accept the fact that Papa is gone already. Papa, I wish that you’re happy and that I wish I would see you again).”
With the help of Project SOW and Rise Up, families are able to look onwards and comprehend the tragedy through faith. Left-behind families gather together through mass, and take a step towards the fight for justice and peace through the knowledge that God has a plan for them. During the death anniversary of Nanay Jane’s son and husband, one of the speakers said that God knew all the leaves that fell from the trees, what more the men who fell during this nation’s troubling times. And as more and more people begin to stand against the killings that have been happening across the country, a priest said,
“Ang kawalan niyo ang pupukaw sa sambayanan (Your loss will awaken the nation).”
When the children start to cry because of the orchestra of grumbling stomachs accompanied by the silence of the empty bed their father used to sleep in, mothers and grandmothers can only tell them, “Magdasal ka. Ipasa-Diyos niyo nalang (Pray. Let’s just leave everything to God).”
Lola Rowena, the mother of Tatay Romy and grandmother of Annie and Crystal, said,“Gusto nila kaming mamatay, pero hindi kami mamamatay. Mabubuhay kami (They want us to die, but we refuse to die. We will live)!” when Pilario asked how she and the children were doing.
True to their battle cry, the children have shown resilience as they stood beside their weeping mothers, and said almost ritually, “Andito pa kami, Ma (We’re still here, Ma).” They’ve continuously supported their mothers in their fight for the justice and in the absence of their fathers, they have stood as bearers of responsibility in the household.
But despite all the resilience they showcase in the face of loss and tragedy, these are still children. These are 7, 10, and 15 year olds who wish to become doctors someday so their little brothers won’t have to suffer stomach aches, policemen who will protect their families, actresses who will make other people laugh and smile.
These are just innocent children who, like Nanay Shirley’s daughter Sandy, ask their parents, “Bubuhayin ba ni Jesus si Papa (Will Jesus bring Papa back from the dead)?”
These are just children and this is their story. This is the story of the children left inside the room. This is the story of the children who continue to live in the echo of the gunshots that took away the life of their parents, who cry for their fathers but only get blank, lifeless stares in return. This is the story of the children whose cries don’t have to remain unheard.