‘Second chance’: An orphan's wish amid drug war

Michael Joe Delizo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 22 2019 04:51 PM | Updated as of Mar 23 2019 10:15 PM

MANILA - It was indescribable pain for 11-year-old Emily (not her real name) one morning in December last year to wake up knowing that her mother who she had waited for all night was coming home lifeless.

On the evening of Dec. 17, 2018, Emily’s 25-year-old mom was found dead with a gunshot wound in the head on a dark alley in Metro Manila’s northern city of Navotas, which has become known as a “killing field” since the start of President Rodrigo Duterte’s widely-condemned “war on drugs” in 2016.

Nightly killings by shadowy assassins have since been a usual scenario in the capital’s underbelly.

“’Pag gising ng umaga, hinintay ko lang si mama dumating. Ta’s hindi na siya dumating,” Emily related in an interview just days after her mother's death back in December, her tone sweet but coated with grief as if she would choke up anytime.

(When I woke up, I just waited for mom to come home. But she never came.)

“Dumating na siya nang wala na din siya. Nasa kabaong na rin siya," she told then DZMM radio reporter Ron Lopez. 

(When she came home, she was already lifeless too. She was in a coffin.)

Emily’s father was also found dead in the city a year ago. He had strangle marks and was believed to have been tortured by unknown assailants.

Both Emily’s parents were linked to illegal drugs. While it was not well established in police investigations, her relatives believe their deaths were part of the government’s bloody anti-drug campaign.

“Nalulungkot ako kasi wala na akong mama saka papa,” Emily said as she tried to maintain her composure. Her feet in purple Hello Kitty slippers were restless.

(I am sad because I no longer have my mama and papa.)

Unseen wounds

Emily is now with her relatives. She has been able to cope and got over the emotional and psychological trauma, according to her auntie.

Unlike Emily, there are some orphaned children who have no relatives to take them in and are now in shelters of non-government institution Bahay Tuluyan in Manila, Quezon Province and Laguna.

They may have different stories to share, but they share the same circumstance: children orphaned by a brutal drug war. 

“Kulang tayo sa pagtugon. Hindi natin napapansin na masama ang epekto nito sa mga bata,” said Loyz Sumaen, advocacy coordinator of Bahay Tulyan. “Nakikita nila na okay lang na may impunity at ang violence o pagkitil ng buhay ay parang nagiging normal na.”

(We have shortcomings in our response. We do not notice its bad effects on children. They see that impunity is okay and violence or killing are seemingly becoming normal.)

Drug-related killings have left 18,000 to 32,395 children orphaned, based on research published by the Ateneo School of Government in August 2018.

Meanwhile, nearly half a million children are estimated to be deprived of parents who were jailed on drug-related charges, according to Child Rights Network.

The reports were based on analysis from the number of arrests and deaths, assuming that each one of them has one to three children.

Data were gathered from 2016 to early 2018.

As of January 31, 2019, the “real numbers” of drug suspects killed for allegedly resisting arrest during the course of 119,841 anti-drug operations were 5,176, according to the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). 

The 2018 World Report of New York-based Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, pegged the number of deaths higher, estimating that over 12,000 drug suspects have been killed in police operations and vigilante-style killings supposedly inspired by “war on drugs.”

A total of 170,689 drug personalities were, meanwhile, arrested. 

Government has many times defended killings of drug suspects in police operations, saying they had resisted arrest. 

Child-‘care’ facilities

The Philippines has a comprehensive set of laws and policies supporting children’s rights. These include a mandate to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to provide shelter, treatment, and rehabilitation to orphaned children, including those living in the streets.

The DSWD is handling 11 reception and study centers nationwide to house neglected, abandoned, abused and exploited children and those with special needs such as children at risk and children who are in need of alternative family care. 

Children affected or orphaned because of the “drug war” can now also be admitted into such facilities. 

“Basically, if there are disruptions in the family or any member of the family, the children are the most affected; they are the most vulnerable that’s why the government agencies and its partner organizations are consulting with each other to come up with a lot of policies, programs and interventions to really protect the rights of children,” said Wilma Naviamos, director of the DSWD's Program Management Bureau.

Many government child centers, however, reportedly have horrendous facilities and poor treatment of wards.

“Ang mga bata doon nagku-kuwento sa amin, parang kulungan ang sitwasyon,” said Sumaen.

(Children there are telling us that the situation there was like prison.)

Victims at risk

Sumaen said abandoned children who are deprived of proper interventions and care are at risk to commit offense because they are in difficult circumstances. 

Children hopping onto jeepneys to beg are a common sight in Manila. Michael Joe Delizo, ABS-CBN News

PDEA does not have data on children abandoned in the “war on drugs” but provided “real numbers” of those age 9 to 17 years old tagged in the illegal drug trade. 

As of January 2019, PDEA has “rescued” 1,001 alleged pushers, 2 alleged cultivators, 93 alleged visitors of a drug den, 6 alleged drug den operators, 3 alleged drug den employees, 255 alleged users, and 501 caught in possession of illegal drugs.

The legal status of those supposedly rescued remain ambiguous and it was not clear how the minors were being treated.

“Anong nangyayari sa kanila? Baka hinihintay lang natin na mag-18 sila at sila na ang next na ita-target? Ano’ng intervention?” Sumaen questioned.

(What is happening with them? Are we just waiting for them to turn 18 before they will be targeted? What is the intervention?)

The Duterte administration has been pushing for the lowering of the age of criminal liability. The House of Representatives in January passed on third and final reading a measure bringing to 12 from the current 15 the age at which minors may be held liable for criminal offenses. 

The Senate has yet to pass its own version of the widely criticized proposal. 

The Child Rights Network called on government to ensure that children’s rights and welfare are heavily safeguarded and that they do not turn into collateral damage.

“We call on the Government of the Philippines to honor its legal and moral obligation to promote, protect, and fulfill the human rights of every child, as a state party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. To continue turning a blind eye to child rights violations linked to the ‘war on drugs’ and treating child abuses as mere collateral damage is to renege on this commitment,” it said in a statement. 

Back to Emily.

The innocent girl who never knew her rights were ignored only hopes for a “second chance” to live a life that was deprived by the “war on drugs.”

“Sana bumalik sa amin si mama saka si papa, mabuhay uli sila. Second chance lang.”

(I hope mama and papa will come back and live again. Only for a second chance.)