MANILA (UPDATED) - Families of those killed in anti-drug operations and vigilante slays on Tuesday cried justice for their loved ones in a mass celebrated at the San Isidro Labrador Parish Church in Barangay Bagong Silangan, Quezon City.
While others are remembering their loved ones in cemeteries this All Souls' Day, families of alleged victims of the drug war were weeping in church as they offered prayers and flowers for those they lost.
In his homily, parish priest Fr. Gilbert Billena said 37 individuals have died in drug-related killings in their village, either in police operations or in vigilante-style executions committed by masked men.
Billena, also a spokesperson for the group Rise Up for Life and for Rights, urged his parishioners and victims' relatives to speak up against the drug war, which mostly targets the poor.
“Sila ay laging nagpapaalala sa atin na kamtin natin ang katarungan, hindi man ngayon, hindi man bukas, ngunit naniniwala tayo na darating 'yan sa sama-sama nating pagkilos,” Billena said.
Two women- a mother who lost her son and a daughter who lost both her parents- gave their testimonies during the mass.
Kim Royo said her parents were taken on May 16 by eleven armed men who said they were policemen.
Her parents were later found dead separately; her father was dumped in a cemetery and her mother was found under a bridge.
She said that while her parents were not perfect, they were not involved in the illegal drug trade.
“Kung may kasalanan, sana ikulong hindi ba? Huwag na lang nilang papatayin sana,” Royo said.
After the mass, the families gathered at the altar and offered flowers and lit candles in front of photos of their departed loved ones.
The group then proceeded to the Batasan Police Station, which has jurisdiction over Barangay Bagong Silangan, where they staged a quiet protest and lit more candles for the dead.
According to station commander Supt. Rossel Cejas, there were legitimate police operations in his area but no recorded cases of extra-judicial killings.
“Nire-respeto po natin ang kanilang karapatan, subalit ipinararating po natin na sa ating kapulisan, we respect the value of life,” Cejas said.
He added that the police are no longer involved in anti-drug operations as the President has ordered the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) to take over.
Per police figures, some 3,800 died in anti-drug operations from July 2016 until the time the President tasked the PDEA to lead the campaign.
Human rights organizations place the death toll at 13,000, but the administration has said the figure is overblown.
Government has repeatedly asserted that it does not sanction summary killings of drug suspects and that those slain in operations had put up violent resistance.