IN PHOTOS: Robredo watches play by drug war orphans, widows

Mara Cepeda
IN PHOTOS: Robredo watches play by drug war orphans, widows

Photo by Martin San Diego/Rapple

The orphans and widows themselves create the play as part of the art therapy program offered by the St Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center

MANILA, Philippines – Vice President Leni Robredo watched orphans and widows of drug war victims perform a play criticizing President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drug campaign.

The orphans and widows belong to 25 families undergoing art therapy rehabilitation offered by the St Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center, an institution established in Manila to provide services for the poor and marginalized.

Fr Flavie Villanueva, who founded the center, was a former drug user. The Healing Intervention Leading to Optimum Management in the Rehabilitation of Significant Others of EJK Victims or PagHILOM program is his brainchild. (READ: Holy Week reflections: From drug addiction to priesthood)

The orphans and widows themselves created the play, with guidance from the center. Their group was invited by the Office of the Vice President (OVP) to perform at Robredo’s headquarters on Monday, June 4.

The play first depicted the outpouring of support for then-Davao City mayor Duterte during the 2016 elections as well as his rise to the presidency. The mood was upbeat, with the actors dancing to hit songs as Duterte’s campaign promises were played in the background.

The play turned somber, however, as the actors started depicting scenes from the anti-drug campaign. The speakers blared Duterte’s hardline statements on killing drug users as the actors tearfully recounted how their loved ones died in anti-drug police operations.

According to Villanueva, the actors’ tears were real, as they still grieve to this day.

“Did you see them cry earlier? No, that’s not part of the script. Actually, when we did the play the first time, they could not even utter the lines, that’s why it was recorded,” said Villanueva in a mix of English and Filipino.

“But this time, there was a significant change, they were able to utter their lines, except that of course, the grieving is still there. The sobbing is still there. They used to howl before,” he added.

The Philippine National Police said more than 4,000 people have been killed in anti-drug operations since Duterte became president in 2016. The police classified another 16,000 cases as deaths under investigation from July 1, 2016 to September 30, 2017. 

The play delved into other issues as well, giving commentary on fake news, the forfeiture of the missionary visa of Australian nun Sister Patricia Fox, federalism and charter change, death penalty, the Dengvaxia controversy, the Boracay closure, and the electoral protest that ex-senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr filed against Robredo. 

The Vice President and the rest of the audience laughed when an actor pretending to be a Marcos supporter delivered the line, “Bilang na ang araw mo, Robredo (Your days are numbered, Robredo)!”

Villanueva said the art therapy program aims to help the orphans and widows see theater as a form of healing, expression, and education. 

“Ito ang layunin ng teatrong ito: Na tulungan ang mga pamilya na ipahayag ang kanilang mga saloobin at mahilom [sila]. Pangalawa, para gamitin ang teatro para buksan ang mga mata ng mga tao sa nagaganap sa ating lipunan,” said Villanueva. 

(This is the purpose of this theater: To help the families express what they feel and help them heal. Secondly, the theater aims to open the eyes of the people to what is happening in society.)

“Pangatlo siguro ay ‘yung magbuklod-buklod ang pamilya, para malaman nila na ‘di lang sila nag-iisa sa problemang nagaganap sa ating bayan,” he added. 

(Thirdly, the play hopes to bring the families together, so they would know they are not alone in facing these problems in the country.)

Villanueva said they are open to performing the play in any forum, school, or institution that would be interested to help their cause. 

The play was first performed at La Salle Green Hills in April this year. –

Photos were blurred to protect the orphans and widows’ identities upon the request of Fr Flavie Villanueva.

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at or tweet @maracepeda.