MANILA, Philippines – Just like any other school day, 5-year-old Danica May Garcia eagerly prepared for her class. It's her first year studying at the East Central Elementary School in Dagupan City, Pangasinan, and she didn't want to be late.
But Tuesday, August 23, was not like any other day for Danica and her family. She didn't even make it out of her home.
At around noontime that day, just after taking a bath, a stray bullet took Danica's life.
Gretchen So, Danica’s aunt, said in an interview with Rappler that on August 23, two motorcyle riders suddenly barged into their house in Sitio Camanggaan, Barangay Mayombo in Dagupan City, and began firing away.
Their apparent target was So's grandfather, Maximo Garcia, 54, who was eating lunch with his wife, Gemma, and his 3 other grandchildren.
There were two gunshots at first, followed by relentless shooting.
According to So, Maximo ran to the back of the house where their makeshift bathroom was located. The gunmen pursued him and continued firing at him. Danica was stepping out of the bathroom and got hit.
So said when she got to the back of the house, Gemma was already clutching her grandchild's body. The bullet hit Danica's nape and passed through her right cheek.
Relatives describe Danica Mae Garcia as a happy, kind, and obedient kid, the jokester in the family
As of press time, Maximo was still in critical condition after sustaining 3 gunshot wounds, according to So.
So expressed her family’s anger and frustration over what happened to her niece and father.
Four days before the incident, Maximo had surrendered to authorities after friends warned him that he was on the police watch list of drug personalities which includes 4,755 individuals from 1,704 drug-affected barangays in the province.
“Nagsurrender po siya kasi ang sabi nila, at ang alam niya, na safe po siya (He surrendered because they said, and he knew, he was going to be safe),” So said.
She said that her father had stopped taking drugs for more than a year because of his medical condition. Maximo had already changed, So added.
“Sa totoo lang, almost one year na siyang halos nakaratay kasi na-stroke po siya. Huminto na po siya at matagal na siyang nagbago (Actually, my father was almost bedridden for more than a year because he suffered a stroke. He stopped [using drugs] and he has already changed.)
These facts have made it more difficult for the family to accept Danica's death, So said.
Danica was a kind and obedient daughter, her aunt said. Her relatives remembered her as the girl in the family who always joked around.
Danica adds to the string of fatalities in the Duterte administration’s war on drugs.
In Pangasinan, at least two others who do not fit the profile of drug addicts were killed by unidentified gunmen. On July 19, family breadwinner Roman "Oman" Manaois, a graduating student who was set to work in Dubai, was shot at close range in Dagupan City by masked men.
On the same day, 22-year-old Rowena Tiamson was also found lifeless in Barangay Parian in Manaoag, Pangasinan, her hands tied and face covered. Dangling from her neck was a cardboard sign with the all-too-familiar phrase “Huwag tularan, pusher (Don’t emulate. A pusher).”
In a study conducted by Ronald U. Mendoza and Miann Banaag of the Ateneo School of Government, Pangasinan ranks sixth in the number of most fatalities related to the current administration’s war on drugs.
In a desperate search for justice, Danica's family hopes President Rodrigo Duterte helps them in their plight.
“Gusto ko lang humingi ng hustisya, na sana makarating kay Duterte na itigil na pagpatay...kasi may mga nadadamay na inosenteng tao na walang kamalay- malay,” So said.
(I just want justice. I hope Duterte puts a stop to the killings because many innocent people are getting killed.) – with reports from Ahikam Pasion/Rappler.com
Raisa Serafica is the Unit Head of Civic Engagement of Rappler. As the head of MovePH, Raisa leads the on ground engagements of Rappler aimed at building a strong community of action in the Philippines. Through her current and previous roles at Rappler, she has worked with different government agencies, collaborated with non-governmental organizations, and trained individuals mostly on using digital technologies for social good.