It will be two years on October 2 since Nanette Castillo’s son Aldrin was killed by motorcycle-riding gunmen but the wound inflicted on losing him is still fresh.
Speaking before students and professors from The Hague School of Applied Sciences and some Filipinos last Tuesday, September 24, Castillo recalled the moment she found the bloodied body of her son on the pavement after he was shot, which according to the Human Rights Commission, was a case of mistaken identity.
Aldrin was about to cross Herbosa Street in Tondo, Manila, shortly before midnight on Oct. 2, 2017, to buy a brandy from a sari-sari (convenience) store, when seven masked men, riding motorcycles, cut him off.
Castillo said his son was ordered by the gunmen to kneel down. “They asked him, ‘what’s your name, what’s your name?’ and then they shot him, one on his temple, one under his ear and three more, one in the neck and one in the heart.”
It was a brutal murder, Castillo said.
The death of her son has prompted Castillo to become the face of mothers in the Philippines who seek justice for victims of the so-called war on drugs. In the Philippines, she has been vocal in forums and rallies, accusing authorities of encouraging and condoning the killings. Because of her grief, she has become an accidental human rights defender.
"Noong una takot ang mga nanay magsalita. Noong nakita ko na ang mga nanay nagtatakip ng mukha, nakabelong itim, nakatalikod, hindi pinapakita ang mukha. Alam mo kung bakit? Takot. Doon ako naba-bother. Kami na ang biktima, kami pa ang tinatakot. Minsan hina-harass ka pa dahil nagsalita in public o kaya magsasampa ng demanda," she said in an exclusive interview with ABS-CBN.
(At first the mothers were afraid to talk. I saw them covering their faces, sometimes in black veil, with their backs on the camera; they didn’t want their faces shown on camera. You know why? Fear. I am really bothered by that. We are the victims and yet we are the ones being intimidated. Sometimes we are harassed for talking in public or for filing cases.)
She is always seen in rallies with a photo of her son hanging on her neck that says: “Justice for Aldrin”.
In the forum, she held the same photo, kissed it and narrated before young students who were mostly her son’s age when he was killed. The fiery speaker in rallies was calm as tears trickled her cheeks while recalling memories about her son. She has done this many times now but she is still overwhelmed by emotions.
“He’s my everything. He’s a good son. Maybe somebody will say because you’re the mother and you’ll say your son is good but I know him. I know him better than anyone else. He had no criminal record. He was not even on the drug watch list,” said the 49-year-old mother.
Castillo brings her cause now outside the Philippines. In her words, so the world would know that many mothers like her are real and they are crying for justice.
“Sa dami ng pinatay ng vigilantes, ng riding-in-tandem, may nakasuhan na ba? May nahuli ba?” she asked, saying that if she will be given a chance to testify in front of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, she will not hesitate if this is the only way to bring justice to her son’s death and other victims of extra-judicial killings.
(With so many killed by vigilantes, by those riding-in-tandem, was there someone charged? Was there someone caught?)
The Office of the Prosecutor of ICC is currently conducting a preliminary examination into the situation in the Philippines.
“Alam ko na ang pagsasalita ko, ang pagpapatunay na totoo ang EJK (extra-judicial killing) sa Pilipinas, ay makakatulong sa imbestigasyon. Ito lang ang venue na nakikita ko na mag-iimbestiga sa mga patayang ito. Dahil sa Pilipinas naman, kahit hindi nila aminin, wala namang imbestigasyon na nangyayari,” she said.
(I know that with my coming out, it will show that extrajudicial killings in the Philippines really happen, and it will help the investigation. This is the only venue I saw that would investigate these killings. In the Philippines, admit it or not, investigations are not happening.)
During the forum on the human rights situation in the Philippines in The Hague, the other panelists were representatives from Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND), Task Force Detainees of the Philippines ( TFDP), Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates ( PHARA), and In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity (iDEFEND).
The groups, supported by several international human rights groups, held forums in Europe, including a side-event during the 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva.
In July 2019, the UNHRC adapted Resolution 41/2 which requests the UN High Commissioner to prepare a comprehensive report on the human rights situation in the Philippines and urges the Philippine government to refrain from "all acts of intimidation or retaliation."
The forums covered the events that transpired after the resolution was passed and what rights groups called the "human rights crisis" in the context of the war on drugs.
Budit Carlos of PHARA and iDEFEND said the war on drugs has never been effective anywhere in the world. Instead, he said, it has caused the shrinking of democratic and civic space in the Philippines because human rights defenders and critics are also silenced.