By Ana Maria Reyes and Rizza Cervantes

ABS-CBN Investigative and Research Group

Photos by Jonathan Cellona

ABS-CBN News Digital Media

INSIDE a house under a bridge in Barangay Banaba in San Mateo, Rizal, a little boy kept himself busy one Monday morning in August by folding paper planes. He is six years old.

One of the paper planes bore his and his father’s name with a message written in careful strokes: “Papa, I love you. I miss you.”  He threw it into the air hoping it would reach Heaven, shouting: “Papa Jesus, ayan na si papa. Salubungin mo na!”

The boy’s father, Joel  Parungao, was a drug pusher in their barangay, according to the police. He was killed in a buy-bust operation last June 20 in a nearby house that a neighbor said was a drug lair.

“Siguro nastress ako. Natagtag paroo't parito. Pagkalibing niya, kinabukasan nakunan ako. Kulang-kulang isang linggo ako sa ospital. Nilakad ko ‘yung mga papel niya, tapos pina-cremate namin siya.”
- Former partner of Joel Parungao (killed on June 20, 2016)

Nine drug suits

In his time, Parungao was charged nine times with drug-related offenses, according to his former live-in girlfriend: One in 1999 where he posted bail and eight more under the new law that made drug-possession no longer bailable.

He was acquitted in the eight cases in 2010 after being detained, in and out, over eight years since 2002. Over this period, his relationship with his girlfriend was going on the rocks. He was held anew in August 2015 and was freed in March 2016 for lack of evidence. By then, they had already parted ways.

Poor lover, good father

All this time, he remained attached with his three children, especially the six-year-old boy, the youngest, despite the separation.

Regaining his freedom, Parungao temporarily stayed in a friend’s house neighbor later tagged as drug lair.  And then the buy-bust came, then the killing.

User, not pusher

The former girlfriend said Parungao was only a drug user, no longer a pusher, at the time of his death.

“[Noon] involved talaga siya sa pagtutulak,” she said.  “Kaya lang, matagal na. Acquitted nga siya sa lahat ng kaso niya e. Wala nga siyang pending case. Kaya lang, itong paglayang-paglaya niya, sa tagal ng panahon na nakulong siya, parang nag-lie low na rin. Ayun, gumagamit talaga siya [pero] hindi na po siya nagtutulak. Wala na po siya doon.”

Parungao’s six-year-old son would know nothing about all these things. To him, he was the father he loved.

“Dito ko siya nilalagay sa heart ko e kasi hindi ko na siya nakakatabi.”
- Six-year- old son of Joel Parungao (killed on June 20, 2016)

Boy misses pa

The boy has been greatly affected by Parungao’s death. He often woke up in the middle of the night, telling his mother: “’Mama, si papa hinawakan niya yung dibdib ko. ‘Wag daw akong masasaktan.”

He visited his father’s ashes kept in the house of the deceased’s eldest son, lighted a candle, and prayed for him every day.

Parungao’s was one of the 50 cases of slain drug suspects the ABS-CBN Investigative and Research Group revisited between August 1 and September 9, several months after President Duterte declared war on drugs.

As of September 21, the ABS-CBN News has monitored 1,674 drug-related deaths.

Duterte has made the anti-illegal drugs war campaign his priority program. Addressing the police force in his victory party on June 4, 2016 in Davao City, he said: “In an arrest, you must overcome the resistance of the criminal… And if he fights, you can kill him… Only if your life is in danger, at lumaba’t may baril, may kutsilyo, barilin mo. And I’ll give you a medal.”

What about the orphans

Since the government went full blast in its drive against prohibited drugs in June, drug-related killings hogged the headlines, detailing the names of the suspects and why they were killed; on the bodies of some victims, the killer left a cardboard that said: “Drug pusher! Huwag tularan.”

But nothing has been said of the parents, brothers, sisters, wives, and children the drug suspects left behind.

The ABS-CBN team went around and checked on them the past weeks.

Based on the team’s findings, almost all of 50 suspects and their families are poor and live in the slums. Only two of the 50 killed suspects live in modest residential areas.

82 minors

Thirty-two of the 50 slain drug suspects had children below 18 years old. Parungao’s six-year-old boy is just one of them.

The children, all 82 of them, lost their fathers who provided food on the table, took care of their schooling, and other bills. In fact, 20 out of 50 killed drug suspects were breadwinners. The sudden loss pulled their families down into an abyss of despair.

Consider the family of Danilo Dacutana, a 29-year-old drug suspect included in the drug watch list of Valenzuela City police.

One suspect, 100 cops

He was killed during a “One-Time, Big-Time” police operation in Valenzuela City. In the PNP Manual on Managing Police Operations of 2015, OTBT is an operation where at least 100 police personnel are deployed to a target problem area to conduct various police operations aiming to reduce crime.

A police report later said Dacutana fired at the police while trying to escape, forcing the police to retaliate. The police wounded Dacutana in the process. He was brought to a nearby hospital but died upon arrival.

“Wala na po. Eto, aasa na lang po ako sa magulang ko.”
- Juvy, partner of Danilo Dacutana (killed on July 13, 2016), on her plans on how she will raise their three children

Pusher, no gun owner

Dacutana’s live-in girlfriend, Juvy, was beside herself with grief and desperation when an ABS-CBN team chanced upon her in Barangay Marulas in Valenzuela City.

Yes, Dacutana was a drug pusher, she said, but he wasn’t a user. And he didn’t own a gun, she added.

“Wala pong baril ang asawa ko… Nabalitaan ko na lang po sa TV sabi .38 daw po. Wala namang ganun yung asawa ko,” Juvy said.

Single parent, 3 kids

Dacutana left behind three children aged six, four and two.

Juvy was set to move away to another place to look for a job so she could fend for her three kids. In the meantime, she hoped her parents could help her support the children.

Other orphans, other widows

The slain suspects were often labeled as social cancer but behind these people were children longing for a parent, widows bearing enormous responsibilities, and parents grieving after the loss of their precious child.

Other orphans and other widows have the same story to tell. And it was not the same story after another, it was the same story told over and over again.

In another barangay in Valenzuela City, Cristina Francisco felt the government has deprived her family of so many things.

Her 37-year-old son, Henry, was shot and killed by anti-drug police officers during a buy-bust operation last July 21, 2016. He left behind four children, aged 15, 12, 8, and 5. One of them has cerebral palsy.

A police report said her son was a pusher and, when a police agent tried to buy from him, he shot the poseur buyer but missed. The agent and his companions turned the tables, hitting the suspect on the right portion of his chest. He died on the spot.

Tall tale

Francisco said the police were telling a tall tale about her son. She said her son could not have engaged the police in a gun fight.

"Kasi nakahiga siya e,” she said. “Paano makakabaril pa yun? Noong tinadyakan ng pulis yung [pinto] sabay baril. Hindi na nga siya nakabangon. Paano mo sasabihing lumaban?"

Family tragedy

Now that her son is no longer around, Francisco felt she should share the burden of taking care of her grandchildren, now staying with their mother. Henry and his wife were separated even before the family tragedy.

“Sino magpapakain niyan doon sa apat na anak niya? Kung may kasalanan, dapat parusahan, hindi dapat patayin,” Francisco said.

Youngest murder witness

The youngest possible witness to one of the police operations could be one-year-old Leah, daughter of Roberto Dominguez, a drug suspect killed in an operation in Caloocan City.

According to Teresita, mother of the deceased, Baby Leah was beside her father when policemen barged into his room where both father and daughter were sleeping.

“Nung nilabas yung ama na patay na, umiiyak yung bata,“ Teresita said. “Kasi nakita nung bata, wala pa namang malay ‘di ba. Isang taon lang yan e.”

No baby in tragedy

Baby Leah seemed to have vivid recollection of the tragedy. When  asked about her father, she would innocently mimic the sound of a gun: “Bang! Bang!”

“Humingi pa ng saklolo yung anak ko bago namatay. Sabing ganon, ‘Ser, huwag niyo naman ho akong barilin, kasi may anak ho akong kasama.’”
- Teresita Dominguez, mother of Roberto Dominguez (killed on July 5, 2016)

But the presence of the child during the operation was not indicated in the police report.

In fact, the details of the report didn’t match the account of the family of Dominguez. According to the police report, Dominguez opened fire first upon sensing the presence of the operatives. The suspect allegedly sustained multiple gunshot wounds in the body that caused his death.

Violence breeds violence

Eilek Manano, deputy director of Children’s Rehabilitation Center, said all the violence could have far-reaching negative effects on the lives of the orphans.

She said the lack of due process may cause distorted concept of justice and acquired hatred towards the people behind the killings. Another effect is strong desire for vengeance.

“Posibleng magkaroon siya ng pakiramdam na gustung-gusto niyang maghiganti,” she said. “Posibleng hindi siya patungkol doon sa mismong pumatay sa kanyang mga magulang...Yung tinatawag namin na aggression, galit siya na hindi nae-express productively so ang nangyayari, sa iba't ibang paraan niya ipinapahayag yung kanyang galit.”

Manano said there were possible ways to help the children recover from the trauma caused by the sudden loss of their parents.

“Immediately para sa mga orphans, yung psycho-social processing, ” she said. 

“Hinahayaan natin yung mga bata na magpahayag ng kanyang pakiramdam, pagtingin sa nangyari... At syempre yung pagbibigay sa kanila ng oportunidad na magkaroon ng makabuluhang partisipasyon at maibahagi kung anong pwede nilang maibahagi: talento, kakayahan.”

Wanted: Helping hand

All these families obviously need a helping hand to get through the night of their lives.

Vilma Cabrera, secretary for Operations and Programs Group-Protective Programs of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, said that they were fully aware of the unusual phenomenon caused by the campaign on war on drugs.

Wanted: Counsellors

Although she admitted that the department has no specialized program for the orphaned children of the slain drug suspects, she said that the current programs of the DSWD could be fully utilized to give support to the families, widows and children left behind.

"Yung Local Social Welfare and Development Officers, sila yung may primary responsibility for providing,” Cabrera said.

“First, comfort-giving for the children na talagang nawiwitness yung pagkapatay nung kanilang mga magulang or kung anong, kung sinong miyembro ng pamilya nila.  Kung sa amin nai-refer, meron kaming trained social workers or even meron kaming mga psychologists na trained talaga on psycho-social support provisions for the children. Kasama na doon yung debriefing, we even go into counselling not only for the children but whoever are taking care of them," she said.

Burial assistance

As of this writing, DSWD has not yet received any request for assistance concerning specifically the children affected by the war on drugs.

"So far wala pa kaming natanggap na ngangailangan ng ganoon. But kung sakaling yung mga pangangailangan, we can readily provide augmentation staff na talagang trained for psycho-social debriefing or mental health and psycho-social support," she stated.

Nevertheless, DSWD has provided burial assistance to some of the families left behind by the slain suspects in the war.

“’Yung aming maximum amount is 75,000. Depende sa punerarya or service provider na nagbigay ng serbisyo. It ranges e… Kasama na yung, hindi lang yung burial or kabaong, pati na yung serbisyo, sa pag-embalmo, at yung during the wake,” she said.

Different folks, different strokes

The orphans have different ways of dealing with their respective situations. Some families chose to move to a new place and start anew.

Other families originally planned on filing a case but did not push through with it because of financial difficulties and fear for their safety. There are others who prefer to just forget the terrible incident and just continue with their lives.

The unexpected death of their loved ones caused a detour in their lives but these families were left with no choice but to move on.

But should the government just leave them alone? The orphans felt betrayed and forsaken.