“It is when the night darkens, that dawn breaks,” President Rodrigo Duterte quoted on his first State of the Nation Address (SONA), a month after he sat on power. The nights have darkened, the doors were broken, yet dawn never came for the people of San Andres.
The president, despite the inconsistency with his statements, remained thick and true to his promise to kill drug users. It has indeed been bloody: the dead turning up on roadsides, fathers being shot in front of their daughters, and cold bodies stacked like firewood. One such area in Metro Manila experiencing rampancy in such killings is San Andres Bukid, the second largest slum in the metro located just a short commute away from St. Scholastica’s College. As of May 2017, the activities in San Andres Bukid have claimed the lives of no less than 30 people, bringing no end of distress to their loved ones.
The dead were the ‘criminals’. The criminal was poor. They are always the poor.
The criminal, however, isn’t only the dead.
It was the first hour of May 25 and Zenaida was still up with her son, JR, and his partner, Elaine, who was then nine months pregnant. Elaine started to go on labor and the three of them were preparing to leave for the hospital when six armed men in black barged in without introduction nor a warrant of arrest. The moment they raised their weapons, Zenaida squeezed her body between JR and the guns, trembling and begging them not to kill her dear son. She was so afraid that she peed on her pants while crying hysterically.
Both women were forcibly brought to the Manila Police Station 6, where the police confirmed that JR was already dead. And as if the death of a son and a partner wasn’t cruel enough, the grieving women were detained on the grounds that guns and drug paraphernalia were recovered from their house, as reported by the police. Zenaida and Elaine were charged with the sale and use of illegal drugs, respectively.
A day after JR was killed, Elaine gave birth and was immediately brought back to jail. Zenaida pleaded to be allowed to attend JR’s funeral; the police demanded the poor mother to pay P5,000 to be able to see her son one last time. They were warned not to speak up and were told that their cases will be dismissed if they don’t press any charges against the police.
Another such case is that of Ryan, who was shot by armed masked men in civilian clothing at 2 in the morning on August 28 of last year. The armed men kicked down the door to Ryan’s house, went up to his room on the third floor, and shot him without warning.
As all this was happening, Ryan was pleading with the shooters, crying out, “Sasamahan ko kayo! Maghuhubad ako ngayon para ipakita sa inyo na wala akong itinatago!” (“I will go with you! I will take off all my clothes to show you that I have nothing on me!”) His 16-year-old sister, Angel, witnessed everything. Outside, around 15 more policemen surrounded Ryan’s house.
After this violent altercation, Angel, his live-in partner, and their eighth-month-old child were taken to the police station and detained. Their parents, along with Ryan’s live-in partner Valerie, rushed to the police station to see them and tried to sort things out. While the policemen were preoccupied, Angel, her partner, her partner’s parents, and her child were able to leave the station unnoticed, while Valerie and Ryan’s mother Bella stayed behind.
The policemen, seeing that some people had gone missing, flew into a rage and ordered the arrest of Valerie and Bella on that same day and pressed charges against them as well, despite the fact that neither were in the scene of the killing at the time.
No one is safe
The law has the face of a killer—armed and masked. Around midnight of December 15, 2016, another group of unidentified men were looking for a certain “Kamote”, whose house was located in front of Jerry’s. They were stupefied by the smoke oozing out of Jerry’s house; they banged the door and barged in only to find out that Jerry was blowing smoke from lit paper to drive away ants crawling near his sleeping sons.
They took Zhayca, Jerry’s wife, and their children to the patrol car. After knowing what happened, Alvin, a barangay official, ran after them and defended them, saying that the couple was not involved in drugs and not in the watch list. This, however didn’t convince them. It took them several hours to release Zhayca, while Jerry, along with Randy—another person sleeping inside the house— were killed. Their bodies were carried inside the police car.
The CCTV caught the gunmen pouring water over the pavement where the blood from the bodies dripped. At around 1:00 am, two men in police uniform came and warned the relatives not to enter the house because the Scene of the Crime Operatives (SOCO) are on their way. Hours passed and no SOCO showed up.
Perhaps the law, armed and masked, kills anybody. There is fear and terror along Jerry’s neighborhood; for two long months, once the clock strikes eight in the evening, residents lock their doors, grab their children, run to the market then go back to their houses at 4 am. They spend the nights in the market with assurance that no one will kill them otherwise, there would be eyes everywhere to testify to the killing.
According to Atty. Cristina Antonio of CanterLaw Philippines, the killings follow a certain pattern: instead of regular illegal drug operations officially conducted by policemen, these instead turn out to be vigilante-style activities that result in lives being lost. Unidentified men in masks would simply barge into the victims’ houses between 10:30 pm and 3:00 am, forcibly separating the victims from loved ones who would naturally attempt to protect them and reason with the unidentified men.
These unidentified men have no search warrant and don’t even bother introducing themselves to the owners of the residence, nor do they verbally give any reason for their unexpected visit. The only clue the victims and their families have is that these unidentified men are affiliated with the local police, as policemen are seen operating right beside them. They simply identify their target, escort the rest of the residents out of the house to the police station, and kill their “suspect”. Any witnesses, which already includes those with the victim at the time of killing, are accused of involvement in illegal drugs. They, too, are either detained or killed by the policemen.
If these stories proved anything, it is that the state of the nation of the people in San Andres is this: the government is attacking the vulnerable of the society, the poor are all criminals, homes are no longer safe, and the police is always right. We write this in the hope that these stories will finally end after dark nights. But as long as the man who delivers the speech in front of the whole nation on every fourth Monday of July is the same man who is the Napoleon of the crime, the dawn will always be dark.