Families of drug war victims celebrate Christmas while on healing journey

Jervis Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 14 2021 04:25 PM

MANILA— Several years after the brutal killings of their loved ones, families of drug war victims continue their journey to healing. 

And they are not doing it alone.

With the help of the Catholic Church, they have formed a community, who celebrated Christmas at the Shrine of Our Lady of Grace Park in Caloocan City on Tuesday.

"Ito po ay simpleng pagdiriwang ng mga pamilya ng mga taong tinokhang at pinagkaitan ng katarungan," said Fr. Flavie Villanueva, who spearheaded the program.

(This is a simple celebration of families of tokhang victims deprived of justice.)

Together, the families exchanged gifts, played games, danced to music and shared food in celebration of Christmas. 

They called the program "Tuloy ang Pasko, May Dalang Paghilom," which means "Christmas brings healing."

Just four to five years ago, this pathway to healing has been mostly unimaginable for these people, who had lost heir husbands or children in the dark of night, slain after being accused of selling or peddling illegal drugs.

Villanueva instituted a program that would help bereaved families cope with the loss of a loved one in government's Oplan Tokhang, the controversial house-to-house anti-drug crackdown widely criticized for alleged summary executions. 

Government has denied irregularities in cases of drug suspects slain in police operations, saying they had tried to violently evade arrest, prompting police officers to defend themselves.

Right now, Villanueva's program has more than 270 members hailing from different parts of Metro Manila. The program starts with vetting, where Villanueva personally assesses the needs of the bereaved. 

There are 12 Saturdays of intervention where the grief and trauma of family members are processed. Legal documentation, education and livelihood assistance, and monitoring come next. 

But more than the assistance, it's the sense of community that has helped the families heal.

"Malaki ang naitulong minsan na kami naisantabi, dahil tinatakan na kami na salot ng lipunan," said Randy Delos Santos, uncle of Kian Delos Santos, the teen killed in a drug operation in Caloocan City in 2017. 

(This is a big for help for us who have been set aside after being tagged as a menace to society.)

In November 2018, three police officers involved in his fatal shooting were found guilty of murder and sentenced to reclusion perpetua, or 40 years in prison.

But his case has been an exception. Most tokhang-related killings have yet to see justice. 

"Gusto ko na 'yung mga kasama ko ay mabigyan ng hustisya, pero malabo pa 'yan sa sikat ng araw dahil ang mga pumatay dyan, nakabalot ang mukha. Nakalulungkot," Delos Santos added.

(I want them to get justice too but that is unlikely as the killers' faces were covered. It's sad.)

Belina Rosales, sister of drug war victim Alan Partosa who was killed in his home in Pateros, has lost hope that they will get justice.

"Ilang taon na nawala kapatid ko, hindi na siya maibabalik. Wala na kami interes na magkaso. Bahala na ang Diyos," she said.

(It's been years since I lost my brother. We've lost interest to pursue the case. It's up to God.)

Rosales said that the community has helped her family get back to their feet after those dark days. Aside from losing her brother, the family felt discriminated against in their neighborhoods.

"Sobrang dapa kami sa diskriminasyon noon. Hindi kami maka-move on. Pero sa tulong ng program, lahat napagtagumpayan namin. Ganon talaga, kailangan magpatuloy sa buhay," Rosales added. 

(We were so discriminated against then. We couldn't move on. But with the help of the program, we've surpassed it. That's how it is, life goes on.)

But while she is in a better position now, Rosales admits there is still anger in her heart.
 
"Galit pa rin sa sinumang gumawa nun at sino mang nagpagawa non, alam namin kung sino, bahala na ang Diyos kasi wala na kami magagawa," she said.

(We are still angry at whoever did it and those behind it, we know who they are, it's up to God now.)

However, healing does not mean they're condoning the ongoing killings.

"Gusto kong ipahayag, walang kasiguruhan na matitigil ang kultura ng patayan sa mga susunod na buwan. Ang karahasan ay magpapatuloy kapag nagkamali tayo ng pagboto," said Villanueva. 

"Pero kahit anong gawing panlilinlang, mayroon at mayroong hindi matatakot maninidigan sa buhay."

(I just want to say that there is no assurance that the culture of killings would stop in the coming months. Violence will continue if we don't vote wisely. Despite the deception, there will always be those who will remain fearless and make a stand for life.)
 

Villanueva said that the circumstances the families are in call for better governance, and as the election draws near, a stronger stance from the Church should surface.

"Iinit ang kampanya, iinit ang pagkalat ng fake news, iinit pamimili ng boto. Ang simbahan may katungkulan na manindigan sa katotohanan at itakwil ang sumasalungat sa mabuting balita," he said.

(The campaign, the proliferation of fake news, and vote buying will heat up. The Church has the responsibility to stand up for truth and renounce those against the good news.)

But for this Christmas, he said the community of drug war victims' families must not give up on the challenges of life.

"Sila ang nagdadala ng tala ng pasko, silang mga namatayan. Hindi sila bumibigay, hindi nagpapalinlang, hindi sumusuko," Villanueva said.

(They bear the star of Christmas, they are the bereaved. They are holding on, they will not be deceived, they are not giving up.)

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