A Feast for Crows*
■ Daniel Boone
The death toll had to rise to a whopping 7,000 before President Rodrigo Duterte ordered for the temporary halting of his war against drugs. But only one month after, it was back on track, fiercer, and more violent with the military helping the police in their operations. People are continuously being killed, most of them left unidentified, aside from inscriptions on a cardboard beside their blood-soaked cadaver: drug pushers.
Yet as the staggering pace of almost 1,000 deaths per month commences, lives are being reduced to statistics. The grim reality of how the poor are easily tagged by perpetrators as drug traffickers remain untold—like what happened on August 21, 2016 in a police operation in an urban poor community in Payatas, Quezon City.
Five were shot in a small shanty. Three of them hogtied, handcuffed, shot, and immediately died. One knelt before his executioner, begged for life, but a bullet still landed on his back. The last one received gunshots in the chest but miraculously survived to tell their story: how the police came to them and claimed the lives of his friends.
Dressed to kill
Efren Morillo was a fruit vendor in a nearby town, who just visited his friend Marcelo Daa to collect money. It was 2:30 in the afternoon when seven men who said they were the police raided Marcelo’s home and searched for illegal drugs. They neither had any search warrant, nor even dressed in police uniforms, Efren recounted.
No drugs were found, Efren said, but the police handcuffed and shot them, execution style. Efren was the only one who survived, saying it was sheer dumb luck. The bullets hit the space between his ribs and his lungs, that any difference in the angle of the gun’s nozzle before the trigger was pulled would have ended up killing him.
Efren, lying face-down on the ground, playing dead, did not see how Marcelo and his friends were killed. All he knew was he heard several consecutive gunshots and one of the cops saying: “Tumawag kayo sa SOCO (Scene of the Crime Operatives) … Iwanan niyo ng shabu.”
Yet, according to the incident’s official report, the police found Efren and his friends in the middle of a pot session. This is how the cops easily justified the killings as a legitimate encounter: “nanlaban!” said Atty. Gil Anthony Aquino from Center for International Law (Centerlaw), a group of human rights lawyers.
But autopsy reports revealing the bullets were all fired downwards only indicate that the victims were all helpless when they were shot. “Ganito ka-brazen ang mga perpetrators [dahil] may quota sila every week na ito-tokhang, buhay [man] o patay,” said Atty. Cristina Antonio of Centerlaw.
Aim and shoot
All the victims were scavengers, barely making P200 every day, struggling to make ends meet. “Nagbabasura lang kami, saan [kukuha ng pang-drugs] ang anak ko?” cried Nanay Belen Daa, Marcelo’s mother. Marcelo’s family had to hold a two-week long wake to gather enough funds for his funeral.
Nanay Belen is now left to take care of Marcelo’s wife and three children, one of whom is a grade-six student who suffered from trauma upon witnessing the bloodbath inside their home. “Dapat ikinulong na lang nila kung totoong may kasalanan … Hindi pala pantay ang gobyerno. Ang mahirap lalong pinahihirapan,” Nanay Belen said.
Several months after the incident, justice remains elusive to their families. All that were killed or hurt throughout the duration of Duterte’s drug war are not merely victims of violence: they are victims of a culture of impunity perpetuated by the ones in power.
The cops that assaulted Efren and his friends remain at large despite admitting all raps filed against them in court. They were just reassigned to other units, receiving no real punishment at all, Antonio said. “[Nakikita natin] na hindi talaga [pabor] ang batas sa ordinaryong mga mamamayan,” Antonio added.
Even Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Ronald dela Rosa acknowledged there are “rogue cops” and called for “cleansing” among their ranks. However, with 82 percent of Metro Manila residents feeling “safer” with the drug war according to a recent Pulse Asia survey, the police said they would continue their campaign against illegal drugs.
But the government should end the reign of impunity and hold top officials accountable if they are serious in reforming the PNP, said militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) in a statement.
Human rights lawyers constantly help the likes of Efren in legal battles against their culprits. But with the current fashion of our justice system that favors those in power and biased against the aggrieved, filing cases in the court undoubtedly will not be the end-all and be-all of the quest for justice for the casualties of the government’s war against drugs.
“The human rights story is the victim’s story … The victims should be the locus of human rights discourse, interaction, and real action,” Antonio said.
Efren believed that PNP’s Oplan Tokhang kills only the poor, further pushing them down the margins of the society. The victims of the spate of killings include users, pushers, accused traffickers, children, and civilians, and mostly coming from the urban poor communities, according to a statement by human rights group Karapatan.
“Many of them use drugs to temporarily escape from their unaddressed problems of hunger, joblessness … The easy case that drug trade offers is too tempting for the hungry,” the group added. Duterte failed to bring the change he promised especially to the innocent victims of the killings he advocated. The only way to address the country’s perennial problem on drugs is also to address poverty that proliferates it.
For Nanay Belen, their story is never over. The war on drugs may not be over, but so is their resistance to the narrative that the government is creating—a story of struggle that is more powerful than any gun and other means of a fascist regime. ■
* Apologies to George R.R. Martin
Short URL: http://www.philippinecollegian.org/?p=12016