Had Rommel Camitan been in Riverside at eleven in the evening of October 25, 21-year-old Jerico Camitan wouldn’t have died.
The trouble, says Rommel, was that he wasn’t there. Rommel was home that night, in Marikina, just as five bullets smashed into the gangly body of his son a few feet away from the girlfriend who was left to bleed against a pile of debris.
If Rommel had been there, he would have protected Jerico. He was a father. Jerico was his youngest. It is what a father is meant to do. But Jerico is dead, and so is his girl Angel. Rommel failed because he wasn’t there.
It is what has been in his mind in the more than two weeks since Jerico’s coffin arrived at Number 1225 Riverside. He could not bury his son, because he was told to pay more than half a hundred grand. The longer he waited, the longer Jerico suffered. Rommel failed him once. As he lay for days in the white coffin, Rommel failed him again.
This is what Rommel Camitan believes.
What Janet believes
Janet Fernandez does not believe Angel and Jerico were killed over drugs, in spite of the sign tossed on Jerico’s chest in the seconds after he was killed. The sign said he was an animal. It said he was a drug dealer.
Janet is six years older than Angel. She is married, jobless, a mother of one. She was told Angel had been shot, but it was only when the story was flashed over broadcast news that Janet accepted her little sister was gone. Angel was happy and stubborn and sweet, Janet says.
Her 17-year-old sister had been living with Jerico for three years before they broke up over another boy Angel met. Angel had returned to Number 1225 to win Jerico back.
Three weeks later, Jerico and Angel were dead, shot by a man on a motorcycle. Janet sat every night in her family’s tiny living room, across the small body whose autopsy stitches ran jagged above Angel’s lace collar. Janet had approached city hall for funeral assistance, and got a little less than a third of what the family needed.
The accusation of drugs is a bluff, Janet says. It was a made-up story, thrown in as misdirection. Jerico had no involvement in drugs. Neither did Angel. She does not know who it was who held the gun, but Janet is angry. Fuck the bastard who killed her sister. Let the fucking son of a bitch show his face.
He will pay, she says. He will pay someday.
This is what Janet believes.
What Hoi believes
On the day after Donald Trump won the presidency of the United States, Hoi Trinh took to his Facebook page and called it a failure of decency.
Hoi is a Vietnamese-Australian human rights lawyer based in Los Angeles. His parents had escaped Vietnam during the war in the seventies. At the height of the exodus, over 10,000 refugees lived in camps in Palawan after traveling by boat to the country’s shores. In the late eighties, a plan of action was devised across Asia that sent home refugees to Vietnam, many of them in fear of their lives. The Philippines was the one country that allowed them to stay.
For more than a decade, Hoi Trinh has helped resettle the last of the Vietnamese boat people who arrived in the Philippines. They now make their homes in the United States, in Norway, in Australia. He is grateful for the compassion the Philippines showed.
It is why, as a reaction to the Trump win – one Hoi called a victory based on prejudices, hatred and divisions – he called on his network to act together to show that common decency and compassion still existed. He quoted Hillary Clinton. “We must do all the good we can for all the people we can in all the ways we can for as long as we can.”
He had read Jerico and Angel’s story, and he wanted to help. Hoi was a father himself, and could understand, in a fashion, the suffering of Rommel Camitan. Funeral rights are important to the Vietnamese, he says. They do not celebrate birthdays. They celebrate the day of death, in memory of the life lived.
The story may have had nothing to do with refugees, or with the US election, or with the Vietnam people themselves. Still, he says, it was worth a try.
So Hoi took Jerico and Angel’s story, translated it into Vietnamese, and asked for donations to bury the bodies. In two hours, there were $2,000 in pledges – many of them from former refugees. He carried the money himself to 1225 Riverside the next day, then drove to Litex to condole with the family of Angel Fernandez.
The best of our humanity should win, he says, not the worst of our instincts.
This is what Hoi Trinh believes.
What the Riverside Boys believe
On the day of the burial, the Riverside boys sit across Number 1225. They are dressed in their best with the matching black T-shirts stamped with the occasional skull on the back. There are songs, a blue guitar, bottles of beer, smoke from half a dozen cigarettes. They were Jerico’s gang, brothers all, had grown up in Riverside to become best men to each other’s weddings and godfathers to each other’s children.
They stand across his coffin, spitting out snatches of rap. We love you, Jerico, say the boys in backward caps. We love you, we do.
One of the Riverside boys snatches up Jerico’s picture. He is older than the rest, gray jacket collar turned up in spite of the sweaty heat, tall where most of the Riverside boys are short and gangly.
He thrusts out the arm with Jerico’s photo. Look at him, he says, do you believe this is a drug dealer?
He turns, facing the wall of neighbors standing along the narrow alley.
Do you believe this is a drug dealer? Where is justice?
His voice cracks.
Where is the law? You, do you believe this is a dealer?
He shakes his head.
This is an innocent, he says.
This is what the Riveside boys believe.
What Rommel Camitan believes
It was Jerico, says Rommel, who found a way to bring Hoi to the family. It was very like him – the boy who bought his father a pair of rubber slippers on his birthday, the boy who took care of his aging grandmother, the boy who laughed at the world and treated his girl like a queen.
It may be that they were not allowed to be together, Rommel says, but in the end, the love story holds true. Jerico will be buried beside his Angel in the cemetery where his mother was once laid to rest.
It is Rommel who holds to tradition and breaks the rosaries after the coffins are opened. It is Rommel who calms his daughters as they scream, who crosses to the Fernandez family to put an arm around Janet and her mother. It is Rommel, in the end, who places a hand each on Jerico’s and Angel’s coffins.
You’ll be together now, he says.
His boy will be buried. Jerico will finally sleep in peace.
This is what Rommel believes. – Rappler.com