A different Undas: Remembering the victims of the drug war

Eloisa Lopez
A different Undas: Remembering the victims of the drug war
Families of victims of drug-related deaths gather to remember their loved ones, and to pray for justice

MANILA, Philippines – Every year on All Saints’ Day, Filipino families reunite to remember and celebrate the lives of their departed loved ones. 

Some families marked the annual Filipino event a couple of days earlier, and in a different way.  On Monday afternoon, October 30, families of victims of drug-related deaths gathered at the Most Holy Trinity Parish in Sampaloc, Manila, to share their stories and dedicate prayers for their slain loved ones. 

The “Padasal Para sa mga Pinaslang: Undas ng Kababaihan (Prayer vigil for the slain: All Saints’ Day of Women),” organized by women’s group Baigani, aims to support families who experienced similar traumatic events.

Artists read poems and sang songs influenced by the culture of impunity that those in the room experienced. 

Lea (not her real name), a resident of Camarin, Caloocan, said the group has become her new family after she lost her husband, who was summarily executed last year.

The first few months after his death were the hardest, Lea said, as neighbors judged and ignored her. “I almost went insane, that I even thought of ending my life, as well as my children’s, to end our misery,” she said.

She now draws strength from her fellow widows. “For the first time, I am able to speak without others judging me. I am with people who understand me.” 

Women warriors

CANDLES FOR THE DEAD. Candles are lit around an outline of a body of a man. Eloisa Lopez/Rappler

This kind of isolation from their own communities is one reason Baigani was created as a group for “women warriors,” according to activist nun Sister Mary John Mananzan.

The traumatic experience of the families of EJK victims is “comparable to none,” Mananzan said. “The only people who could comprehend your pain are the same people who experienced it.” 

With Baigani’s partnership with parishes and other support groups, the widows and mothers are provided with free therapy sessions and legal assistance. 

Katherine Bacani, whose husband was killed in a police operation in August 5, 2017, said a lot of her fellow widows were in tears when she shared her husband’s story, as if they were reliving their own experiences.

The women in the group eventually became her friends. “Now we can joke around and talk about things other than our trauma,” Katherine said. 

Justice for all

PERFORMANCE. Actor Mae Paner performs a monologue about a widow and Zumba instructor, inspired by real experiences of a woman who lost a husband in the war on drugs. Eloisa Lopez/Rappler

As night fell, all of the women were given candles to be placed in front of the altar as the names of the victims were recited. Volunteers and supporters also lit candles and prayed for victims. 

Behind the lit candles was a glass box filled with yellow chicks feeding on grains, traditionally placed on top of the coffin of a crime victim. It is said that the pecking of the chick would nudge the perpetrators’ conscience. 

Activist and actress Mae Paner, popularly known as “Juana Change,” joined the lighting of candles after performing a monologue about a widow and Zumba instructor – inspired by a woman’s real life experience. 

Katherine lit hers for her husband, Adolfo, and the husbands and sons of her newfound friends. 

Although justice is still elusive, Katherine feels that they have attained a bit of it from the outpouring of love they have received from strangers. 

“While there is no justice for our loved ones yet, there is justice in the constant support we receive, because we draw from it our strength to fight,” she said. – Rappler.com

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