MANILA, Philippines – Randy delos Santos has witnessed drug war victims being exhumed from their resting place. This is not new for him because he is part of St. Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center, which helps families of drug war victims exhume the remains of their loved ones.
But August 15 was different for Randy – he exhumed his own blood relative, his nephew Kian delos Santos. The exhumation of Kian’s remains came a day short of the fifth year of his death.
Rodrigo Duterte has stepped down from office, but the intensity of his drug war can still be felt by the families left behind by the victims. The victims’ final resting place is not final at all – some of the killed are evicted from their graves once they have occupied the tombs for five years.
In public cemeteries, the lease usually lasts for five years only. If the family fails to renew the lease, the remains of their loved ones are transferred to a mass grave.
On Monday, Randy and his family, including Kian’s siblings, went to La Loma Cemetery in Caloocan City to retrieve Kian’s remains. Before his tomb was opened and his remains were pulled out, Father Flavie Villanueva of the AJ Kalinga Center blessed Kian’s remains.
Kian’s body will be transferred in another gravesite in the same cemetery, according to his uncle, Randy.
A student at that time, 17-year-old Kian was helplessly killed by cops in a dark alley near his house on August 16, 2017. Surveillance videos from closed circuit television in the area, along with eyewitness accounts, revealed that the minor was dragged by cops in the alleys and then into a corner, where he was shot. (READ: TIMELINE: Seeking justice for Kian delos Santos)
The court found Police Officer III Arnel Oares, PO1 Jeremias Pereda, and PO1 Jerwin Cruz guilty of killing the 17-year-old. The court also found the three had lied about the circumstances of the boy’s death.
Five years had passed, but for Randy, his nephew should still be remembered because Kian became the face of extrajudicial killings.
“Siguro siya ‘yong naging mukha, ‘no? Alam naman nating lahat na siya ‘yong naging mukha at siya ‘yong sumampal sa mukha nating lahat. At nagpatanggap na sobra na ‘yong patayan eh. Libo-libo na ‘yong mga namamatay. Siguro, sa pamamagitan ng kanyang kuwento, tinanggap ng lahat na merong extrajudicial killings,” Randy told reporters.
(I think it’s because he has become the face, right? We all know that he became the face [of the drug war] that awakened all of us. He helped us realize that killings had been too much. Thousands have already died. Maybe, through his story, everyone accepted that extrajudicial killings did exist.)
Despite the cops’ conviction, Randy still believes that justice remains elusive for drug war victims.
“Bakit si Kian lang? Anim na taon na. Kung nagtatrabaho at talagang hinahanap ang hustisya, sana nadagdagan na.” (Why only Kian? It has been six years. If they are really working and seeking for justice, the number should have increased.)
Saving victims’ remains
Project Arise, led by Villanueva, aims to save the remains of drug war victims – including Kian’s. The project started in May 2021, and as of August 2022, they were able to exhume more or less 60 remains of drug war victims.
Villanueva pooled in funds to help the families. He helps the families because some of them are unaware of the exhumations, while some just let them happen because of poverty.
Forensic expert Dr. Raquel Fortun also helps the families of drug war victims by probing into the victims’ death. Her probe is connected to Villanueva’s exhumation efforts. After bodies are exhumed, Fortun reexamines the remains – and then the bodies are cremated.
In her probe, Fortun has so far found out that some drug war victims who were declared to have died of natural causes in their death certificates, were actually homicide victims.
According to Villanueva, Kian’s remains would be reexamined by Fortun to unearth the “deeper truth” about Kian’s death.
“We hope to uncover deeper truth. We want to uncover what took place and as what we have revealed in the past, pahintulutan nating magsalita ‘yong mga kalansay na nanahimik nang ilang taon (let us allow the skeletons, which remained silent for years, to speak),” Villanueva told reporters.
He added that they would conduct a more thorough reexamination: “Alam nating na-autopsy pero I think ‘yong autopsy ay ginawa lang sa bahay. Ngayon ay mas masusi nating titingnan kung ano at paano sa larangan ng siyensiya makikita ang pagpaslang sa kanya.”
(We all know that he had already undergone an autopsy, but I think the autopsy was only done in the house. Now, we will investigate further, to see, through science, how he was killed.) – Rappler.com