“Using a lot of primary sources and interviews, [Raissa] Robles wrote an account of the atrocities that happened during the Marcos Years that is different from what was written before. She not only documented the experiences of the victims, rather, she also sought the perspective from the other side – those of the punishers and executioners. She produced an account of an aspect of the regime which is truthful, comprehensive, readable, at times touching, but engaged—which is the most important thing—making a stand after seeing the facts. If this is not scholarship, I don’t know what is.” – Prof. Michael Charleston “Xiao” Chua, historian, De La Salle University, Manila
Riding in tandem and 10,000 funerals
When investigative journalist Raissa Robles shared the Philippines’ experience of “riding in tandem,” at a UCLA seminar on Monday, October 16, she was not referring to the common manner of hailing a motorbike and the passenger seated at the rear, a form of commuting in the provinces.
She was describing riding in tandem, with the driver in front and a rear passenger, equipped with a gun, shooting and killing would-be targets.
On a visit to a Los Angeles church on Thursday, October 5, Bishop Pablo David described himself as a “shepherd of his slaughtered sheep.” It is a take on what Pope Francis taught his seminarians then, to reach out to folks and they would come back with mud on their boots to the seminary.
“My diocese is a marginal, neglected diocese, nasa laylayan ng Metro Manila (on the seams of Metro Manila). It is composed of 27 parishes and 32 incardinated priests and encompasses 2 million parishioners who live in Caloocan, Navotas and Malabon,” he said. In Pampanga, where he was last assigned, it had 95 parishes and 150 priests for the same population.
“When the new government started, it was respectful of people’s opinions. This government [of Pres. Duterte] was voted by 16 million people, so I respect that,” he added.
But then, great disillusionment and great disappointment of corruption ensued, while some held onto their beliefs that the Philippines needed a leader like Lee Kuan Yew, the Prime Minister of Singapore, with “kamay na bakal (fists of steel)”, he continued.
Then, the extrajudicial killings started to happen in July 2016. The new president had just been installed in office.
According to Bishop David, it was a lot of killings but the bishops wanted to confirm first before issuing a pastoral statement, as there was a proliferation of drugs and the new government has to fight this problem comprehensively.
But, it is a policy gone wrong, Bishop David said. He likened the drug wars “to burning a house to kill some mice,” and soon, the killings got folks worried about the daily findings of dead bodies.
He watched killings reported on television but, the killings started to cluster in Caloocan, prompting him to call the parish priest and say, “Have you heard of this killing? Have you blessed the dead?”
By September of last year, he met the night crawlers, reporters working at night who would hang out at key places to wait for news so that they can keep tabs on who were killed each night.
One category kept emerging, “Nanlaban sa police (Those who resisted the police),” while the other category was “DUI” – deaths under investigations, perpetrated by men wearing ski masks, where the suspects are abducted, and left dead in the gutters, with a sign “Drug addict ako – don’t imitate me.”
“They are already [on] the margins of society, still in the margins of the church,” he said, so he waived the fees for funerals. The dead in Caloocan started to get blessings of the sacraments.
He started wondering: Why have most casualties come from Navotas, Caloocan and Malabon? He was told that they have lots of drug pushers and drug addicts.
With Caloocan’s 1 million population and Navotas with less population, they were comparable in the statistics of killings. “Pantay sa statistics ng drug war,” he said.
Which led to a question, what about the big drug suppliers – “wherein 23 containers of shabu (estimated value of P22 billion) got passed through the green lane, leaving only five containers of shabu worth P6.5 billion, when the warehouse was raided.”
P22 billion pesos worth of shabu were snuck out already. We are not pursuing the real war on drugs, according to the bishop, as it is being fought too quickly but the policy did not define the enemies, the allies and how to do it.
From October 2016, there have been daily findings of two to 10 cadavers on the streets. The DUIs, deaths under investigations, were never resolved, as there was no evidence and there was no list of casualties from the police and their data came from the news reporters, the bishop continued.
Then on Dec. 28, 2016, a group of unidentified assailants, known as “bonnet gang,” was looking for JR. They approached a group of young men gathered in front of the house, looking for JR. These men killed all four, two of whom were 16 years old, while the others were 15 and 19. The gang went inside the house and they also killed the parents of these young men, one of whom was a pregnant woman. In five minutes, eight folks died.
Three days later, three more JRs were killed. Bishop David referred to it as ‘Hit and Miss’ killings, reminding him of the Japanesemakapilis (those who pointed to Filipinos, who were then killed by the Japanese soldiers), during World War II.
The bishop decided to collaborate with the mayor who in turn acknowledged that the mayor’s office, when apprised of a raid by the police, would subsequently turn off the street lights and the CCTV. The net effect: no evidence of random slaughter of the citizens.
When Kian delos Santos was killed in August of this year, it ignited a firestorm of backlash. He was 17 years old at the time of his death and was about to graduate from high school. He reportedly pleaded with his captors to have mercy on him as he had exams the next day. His dream was to be a cadet and he was a supporter of Pres. Duterte’s war on drugs.
Police alleged Kian resisted and they suspected Kian to be a drug mule. Yet, witnesses and the CCTV footage revealed Kian was dragged and made to run while police claimed he shot his firearm. A firearm was recovered in his left hand, and yet, Kian was right-handed.
Crux Now published a report on August 28 that said, “More than 3,200 drug suspects have been gunned down by police since Duterte launched his crackdown in July 2016. More than 2,000 others have died in drug-related killings, including attacks by motorcycle-riding masked gunmen, who human rights groups allege are policemen in disguise or their civilian hit men.”
In the report, Jesuit Father Antonio Moreno was quoted as saying, “We cannot build the Philippine nation on the cadavers of the Filipino people.”
Bishop David described one victim with 32 pricks of ice picks and gouged eyes, recalling what tortured victims had gone through during the Marcos years decades earlier.
Marcos’ martial law: Never again
Raissa Robles’ book begins with “The Boy Who Fell From The Sky,” a story of 16-year-old Luis Manuel “Boyet” Mijares, son of Primitivo Mijares, a former aide of the dictator, Ferdinand Marcos.
Luis Mijares’ body was dropped from a military helicopter circling around Antipolo and the examining doctor counted 33 shallow wounds, apparently gouged with an ice pick, as written on page 1.
The parallels are chilling in terms of the torture techniques, making Robles’ claim persuasive, that the police and military learned these methods of torture from Fort Bragg.
Liliosa Hilao, a student at the University of the City of Manila, was about to graduate summa cum laude when she was taken to Camp Crame, the headquarters of the Philippine Constabulary. Her family was told she committed suicide.
Primitivo Mijares confirmed knowing about this body, and goes on to say on page 58 of Robles’ book, “When the victim’s body was turned over to the family, it was clothed in Lily’s bloodied and torn skirt, while the entire torso was covered with bandages. Her underclothing was missing and her face, especially her mouth, was scorched by muriatic acid. Her neck and throat were badly punctured. Two pin punctures were found on the arm.” According to Robles, “Mijares claimed that her torturers tried to mask the real cause of her death.”
On page 27, she outlines the seven elements of Marcos’ plan to grab power: 1) Control the military and police; 2) Control the Supreme Court; 3) Undermine the Philippine public’s faith in democracy; 4) Exploit and abet lawlessness and instability; 5) Exaggerate the Communist threat; 6) Get U.S. backing; and 7) Hijack the Constitutional Convention.
In her talks in San Francisco and Los Angeles, Robles drew clear examples of how Duterte is following the playbook of Marcos. She described how the current president has cultivated the loyalties of the military and police quite early after he was inaugurated into office.
He has also silenced his main opposition and jailed Sen. Leila de Lima as an accomplice of drug pushers. Now, an impeachment case has been initiated against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. Of Robles’ book, Candy Quimpo-Gourlay wrote, “the accounts are harrowing, many perpetrators are at large, and the martial law story clearly remains unfinished.”
Removal of the black veil
Bishop David has set up rehabilitation centers for drug addicts, hoping to save lives and divert them away from drug addiction. He called his first rehabilitation center, Salubong, reminiscent of the removal of the black veil from a sorrowful Virgin Mary, with an angel suspended in mid-air and tasked to remove the veil.
When the bishop presided over the Salubong ritual in his diocese, he saw the people in tears. He realized that the Salubong is a form of prayer — it is like our lives are covered by a black veil of misery and yearning for a glimpse of Resurrection and to have a glimpse of God’s light in our lives in the Philippines.
He partnered with the local government and encouraged their collaboration to train counselors, with psychologists to assist in rehabilitation work.
He believes that the government can really stop the killings, instead of the police resorting to Tokhang (bang bang), where they do the arrests, searches and seizures without the benefit of warrants and respect of rights, reminiscent of Marcos’ martial law.
He pointed to an example of the suspended Operation Tokhang from January to March 2017, when the killings stopped.
He has now asked 27 parishes to ring all church bells at 8 p.m., much like what was done when the blood of the lamb was put on doorposts and the angel of death would pass the house and spare the residents inside during biblical times.
He described another operation, “One Time, Big Time,” when in one night just months ago, 25 were killed in Tondo and 32 were killed in Bulacan.
“We cannot allow them to slaughter my sheep,” he said. “Just like Exequiel the prophet, who denounced the false shepherds of Israel, when the president says: ‘Drug addicts are not human and criminals are not human,’ this is plain madness!”
The bishop asserted, “The law is based on restorative justice, with all due respect, I disagree with the president. We are bound by the law, we are bound by the constitution, as a duly-elected president, they are not stray dogs and cats. Walang karapatan patayin sinuman (No one has the right to kill anyone).
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Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. writes a weekly column for Asian Journal, called “Rhizomes.” She has been writing for AJ Press for 9 years now. She contributes to Balikbayan Magazine. Her training and experiences are in science, food technology, law and community volunteerism for 4 decades. She holds a B.S. degree from the University of the Philippines, a law degree from Whittier College School of Law in California and a certificate on 21st Century Leadership from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She has been a participant in NVM Writing Workshops taught by Prof. Peter Bacho for 4 years and Prof. Russell Leong. She has travelled to France, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Mexico and 22 national parks in the US, in pursuit of her love for arts.