BLESSING RITES Fr. Ben Alforque sprinkles holy water on the pictures of people killed in the government’s war on illegal drugs. Their relatives, friends and members of religious and human rights groups offered flowers and lit candles for them during a Mass in Quezon City. —JOAN BONDOC
The families of at least 30 victims of President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs gathered at a Quezon City church on Tuesday, eve of All Saints’ Day, to remember their slain loved ones and press their demand for justice.
Mothers, fathers, spouses and children of the victims attended a Mass offered for the departed at San Isidro Labrador Parish Church in Bagong Silangan village.
Catholic priest Gilbert Billena, in his homily, said the victims would not find peace if their families would not seek justice.
“It might not be today or tomorrow, but we believe that we would attain justice if we act together,” he said. “And the day will come that God would hear our prayers, our shouts, and our hopes.”
Billena is also the spokesperson for the ecumenical group, Rise Up for Life and for Rights.
Flowers, candles, stories
Aside from prayers, the families also offered flowers and candles for the victims.
They also shared stories of how they lost their parents or children, and comforted each other in tight embraces.
During the Mass, Erlinda Baginon, 69, could not stop weeping.
Her son, Antonio, was one of the first victims of the war on drugs that President Duterte launched right after taking office in June last year.
Antonio was shot dead by three unidentified men inside his home at Humanity Village in Bagong Silangan on July 11, 2016.
The 51-year-old was also the first to be killed in the village, where many of the city’s poorest reside.
“Without my son, I do not know what to do,” Erlinda said. “I do not have money even to visit his grave in Bagbag Public Cemetery or buy candles for him.”
From July 2016 to July 2017, at least 37 people were killed in Bagong Silangan, Billena said.
“Even us priests find it hard to sleep as we hear gunshots at nighttime … We became traumatized from hearing the sirens of ambulances,” he said.
Quezon City Police District records showed that since the start of the war on drugs, more than 900 people have been killed in the city, with 369 slain in police operations.
More than 540 have been killed by unknown assailants—cases described by the police as “deaths under investigation.”
The Batasan Police Station, which covers Bagong Silangan and five other villages, topped the district’s 12 stations in the number of deaths: 339 killed by unknown gunmen, 120 slain by police in drug raids.
After the Mass, the families of the victims gathered at the Batasan Police Station, just across the House of Representatives, to offer flowers for their slain loved ones.
To serve and protect
The families also called on the police to fulfill their duty to serve and protect the people.
“This symbolizes the scene of the crime, because many families believe that their relatives were killed by the police,” said Nardy Sabino of Rise Up.
“We hope the police understand why we’re here, because those they killed also had dreams like them,” Sabino added.