“They are our families and we love them. We fight for the people we love.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Juliet Yap, 57, wept as she narrated how her son, Julius, begged for his life before he was shot by police on April 23. By her neighbors’ account, her son was shot at the house of a certain “Amay,” a known drug dealer in Bocaue, Bulacan.
The neighbors said the police asked Julius if he was Amay, which he denied as he identified himself.
“They heard the police beating him up, and Julius said ‘Please sir, don’t. You can jail me but please don’t kill me.’ And then they heard gunshots,” Yap said weeping.
Contrary to police claims that those killed in anti-drug operations fought back, Julius pleaded for his life. As much as she wanted to go after the perpetrators and prove that Julius did not fight back, Juliet felt helpless.
“Those are the police,” she said in Filipino. After the incident, she said they simply went to the morgue to fetch her son’s body, brought him home and buried him. “I leave it up to the Lord,” she added.
It was after her interview with media when Rise Up for Life and for Rights contacted her. The group is an alliance of human rights advocates, church people and families of victims of extrajudicial killing. They encouraged her to seek justice for her son. In September, she began joining the group’s activities. She is now among the families who seek justice for their loved ones.
Yap joined other victims’ families in the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) prayer rally at Edsa on Nov. 5. She said she hardly went to the city before, but after her son was killed, she now frequents the capital, not to go to malls, but to protest against war on drugs.
With Rise Up, she feels that she is not alone. Her grief somehow eases knowing that other women like her whose daughters or sons were killed in the war on drugs are rising up together for justice.
At a loss on where to start
Sheera Escudero’s brother, Ephraim was found dead in Angeles City, Pampanga, hogtied and head covered by packaging tape. He went missing on Sept. 19 and was found dead on the 24th. He was only 18 and is survived by his wife and two children. Escudero said her mother cries every time she sees his picture or if something reminded her of him.
Escudero said her family is confronted with difficulty in identifying the people last seen with her brother in a blurry closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage. They could not make out the faces when zoomed in.
The CCTV footage showed that two men rode with Ephraim in his motorcycle on his way to their cellphone repair shop on Sept. 19. There was talk that one of the two men was an ex-convict and the other was an intelligence agent. The alleged ex-convict was also found dead. His body bore torture signs.
“The case of my brother is so hazy, we even don’t know where to start,” she said.
Her brother was a drug user when he was 15 years old. But their parents pushed for his rehabilitation and Ephraim had been drug-free even before President Duterte was elected.
Chance to life
Yap said as far she knows, Julius was not a drug addict. She said Julius only happened to be in Amay’s house because he was called to work there as a house boy. The neighbors said Amay was in the drug watch list and was apparently tipped off about the operation and left the area. Yap felt it was a set up and it was her son who was caught by the police.
Julius was sixth of her eight children. He was the only one who was single in the brood and had been helping her in the household expenses. “He has nothing to do with her (Amay),” she said.
In Ephraim’s case, the young man was off to a good start. Sheera said they saw his brother changed as he started his own family. He found a job to provide for them. Their parents were so happy with Escudero that they bought a motorcycle for him.
The motorcycle is still missing, said Escudero. His two cellphones were also missing. What hurts them more is the lack of police response. Escudero said the police did not even investigate when they reported that Ephraim was missing.
“They pointed us to another station. They told us, ‘Maybe he was arrested by another unit.’ How can we know if they are not going to act,” she said.
Escudero said drug addicts and pushers have proliferated in their area in San Pedro, Laguna. That is why her parents voted for Duterte hoping that he will indeed end the problem of drugs. But not this way, she said, with thousands killed in anti-drug operations.
Emily Soriano, 58, still cries whenever she recalls how her son 16-year-old son Angelito died. He was among those killed in Caloocan City on Dec. 28, along with six others, including two other minors and a pregnant woman.
Angelito was her fifth child and was a Grade 8 student. He dreamt of becoming a soldier one day. She said her boy was not an addict. In fact, when Duterte became the president, she became an active barangay tanod, (village guard) so that she could also watch over her children. She also supported Duterte’s war on drugs by participating in the crackdown of drug addicts listed in the drug watch list.
“But they were all caught alive. My son, who was not even an addict and did not have any record, died because of this (war on drugs). He did not even get involved in any riot,” she lamented.
She said neighbors can attest that Angelito was a good boy. Angelito also helped her in selling street food to be able to get his baon (allowance) to school.
Soriano said she could not accept that her son died that way. This is why she is fearless in talking against the war on drugs, whether in media interviews, in protests or whenever there is a chance.
In January, she and another family of one of the seven victims filed murder charges against the suspect presented to them by the police. However, they are not convinced that the detained suspect is the man who killed their children.
During one of the court hearings, she said she overheard police men saying that it was a police operation.
“I asked that police man: ‘So it was a police operation? Why did you kill them? There were children inside the house.’ And the police did not say anything,” she said. She said witnesses are afraid to come out because they reportedly saw that it was the police who strafed the house where her son was.
She wants justice, she said. That is why even if it is dangerous, she speaks out against the war on drugs so that Duterte will hear the poor’s anguish.
Normita Lopez, 53, from Hermosa, Tondo, also filed a case against the police who killed her son on May 18 in a police operation.
Witnesses said Djastin had his hands up and was already surrendering when a police man pushed him and then shot him. Djastin had a seizure, then the police slapped him and then shot him again. He sustained five gunshot wounds.
Lopez said police prevented her from going to the body even if there was still no police line cordoning the area. She said she only wanted to confirm if that was his son.
When she saw the picture of her son’s body on the railway where the incident happened, Djastin’s hand was inserted in his shorts. However, she said, witnesses told her that was staged.
“Why did they kill him? He was already surrendering, why kill him?” she said.
There were inconsistencies with the police report, she said. The spot report said he was killed because he resisted arrest. Then, the police again issued a report that Djastin killed a certain Michael Turla. She said that was a sham because an earlier report had identified another man in Turla’s killing.
Djastin was a kind son, she said. Since he was 15 years old, he already helped his mother earn an income. This is why she cannot accept that Djastin would die that way. Because she was determined in pursuing the case, Lopez had experienced harassments from the police. But her quest for justice could not stop her.
“Ganun ganun na lang ba? Hindi pwede. Tao yan, pamilya yan kaya dapat silang managot,” Lopez said.
Yap, Escudero, Soriano and Lopez are all members and volunteers of Rise Up. Unlike before when families of victims were too scared to speak or had to hide their identity for fear of police retaliation, the four women said they are now showing their faces to fight for justice not only for them but for all families too.
Lopez had dedicated her time to Rise Up, she would do volunteer work in their office as payback to them.
Lopez also told mothers and other relatives to be not afraid in filing their case against the perpetrators. They should be brave for their loved ones, she said. “They are our families and we love them. We fight for the people we love,” she said.