By RUTH LUMIBAO
MANILA – Ahead of All Saints Day and All Souls Day, families and relatives of victims and human rights advocates in Metro Manila protest extrajudicial killings (EJK), as they joined together in a group against the climate of impunity and fear resulting from President Duterte’s War on Drugs.
Launched in Caritas Manila on October 28, the Metro Manila chapter of Rise Up for Rights and Life will serve as an alliance to mobilize advocates and families affected by EJKs to take action against the government’s bloody anti-drug operations. With tombstone placards, they called for an end to the killings and accountability for their slain loved ones.
Rise Up was launched in November 2016 by human rights and religious groups.
After more than a year, the number of victims of the so-called War on Drugs has risen despite the Duterte administration’s claim that it has succeeded and contributed in the decline of crime rates in the Philippines. With an estimate of about 13,000 victims, the killings are conducted with almost identical patterns: suspected state agents pass by a community on board a motorcycle, drag their victim to an alley, or forcibly enter their home, then shoot the victim in full view of his family or other people.
Anna Lorraine Rafer, spokesperson of Rise Up for Life and for Rights Metro Manila, is a witness to this state-sponsored brutality. On Jan. 25, in Sampaloc, Manila, her uncle Ernesto “Eric” Tapang was waiting for one of his children at 2:30 a.m. when someone from a moving vehicle put out a gun and shot him multiple times. The car drove away and their other family members, Anna included, rushed him to the hospital.
Rafer went to the police station to ask for help, and it took about 10 minutes for them to get to the crime scene. They arrived ill-prepared – they had no radio contact with other police officers who might have seen the perpetrators, no police kit to gather the evidence, and in all likelihood, no intention to assist the victim’s family, Rafer said.
Rafer and her family approached different agencies — government, non-government, and even the media — to ask for help and to seek accountability. Almost 10 months later, they still have no update on any action taken, if any, from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) or Philippine National Police (PNP). While witnesses told Rafer that the car used had a red plate, they could not verify this with the blurred footages taken by the substandard close-circuit television (CCTV) in the village.
“The victims of the war on drugs were, at first, the poor. Now, even minors are targeted. If tokhang really does solve the drug problem, why is it that the number of killings continue and increase over time?” Anna said in Filipino.
Duterte’s anti-drug police operations is coined Oplan Tokhang – short for “toktok” and “hangyo,” the Cebuano words for “knock” and “plead.” The anti-drug drive has become synonymous with the daily killings in urban poor communities, whether by police or vigilantes, and has triggered public outrage on human rights violations and killings of minors by police. On Oct. 12, the President has issued a memorandum transferring the anti-drug operations to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), thus, terminating the police role in the operations.
The Roman Catholic and other church denominations have been speaking out against Oplan Tokhang.
“Hindi ito problema lang ng mga komunidad sa pagitan ng mga simbahan ng Roman Catholic. Problema ito ng komunidad at kailangang lumahok ng lahat ng simbahan,” Fr. Dionito Cabillas, convenor of Rise Up Metro Manila, said during the launch.
(“This is not the problem of only the Roman Catholic community, but a problem of the whole community and all churches, regardless of what religion, should join.”)
Fr. Cabillas also encouraged relatives and family members of EJK victims to organize members from their communities to stand against the war on drugs.
“Tumulong tayo sa pagkabuklod-buklod ng mga biktima ng extrajudicial killings at tokhang (Let us all help to unite all victims of extrajudicial killings and tokhang),” he said.
Rise Up for Life and for Rights Metro Manila invites everyone to join the November 5 nationwide mobilization against the war on drugs. On October 31, a mass and gathering will also be held at San Isidro Labrador Parish in Silangan village, Quezon City, one of the most hit communities of the anti-drug operations.