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Photo from Melandrew Velasco
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Wrong place, wrong time.
That’s how relatives of Roman Clifford Manaois described his untimely death in the hands of unidentified gunmen on July 19 in Dagupan City, Pangasinan.
Cecil Manaois told Rappler in an interview on Thursday, July 28, her son was just supposed to go to the city market to eat kaleskes, a local delicacy.
Oman, as fondly called by family and friends, was picked up at 9 pm from his house by a tricycle driven by his friend, Julio*. On the way to Galvan Market, a neighbor named Zaldy Abalos hailed the vehicle and requested to be dropped off at Lucao district.
While paying his fare at his destination, Zaldy was gunned down at close range by men wearing bonnets.
According to Oman’s relative, Melandrew Velasco, Julio, who was able to flee, recalled that Oman held up his hands, seemingly asking for mercy, when the gunmen turned to him.
The merciless suspects, however, proceeded to kill the 20-year-old Oman.
“Tinaas pa raw ni Oman ang mga kamay niya pero binaril pa rin sa tagiliran na tumama sa puso,” Velasco told Rappler. “Just to make sure he was dead, binaril ulit siya sa temple niya.”
(Oman held up his hands but he was still shot at the side, which hit his heart. Just to make sure he was dead, he was again shot in his temple.)
Oman, the good son
What was supposed to be a short trip to satisfy a craving ended the dreams not just of Oman, but also his family.
The second of 4 children to a housewife and a disabled father, Oman was the breadwinner who worked while studying. He often tagged along with his uncle who took on electrical wiring jobs around the city.
Oman was also just a few months shy from graduating and was scheduled to take an overseas job in Dubai. The job, Melandrew said, would have helped his family tremendously.
“Siya sana iyong mage-emancipate ng pamilya niya from hardships in life (He was supposed to emancipate his family from hardships in life),” he explained.
The Oman the people of Barangay Carael grew up knowing was far from the suspected drug users and pushers who wound up behind bars – or worse, dead – as the present administration’s war on drugs intensifies.
Everyone only had praises for Oman, according to Cecil.
“Madami ang magpapatunay sa kabaitan ng anak ko at wala talagang masasabing masama tungkol sa kanya,” she told Rappler. “Hindi ko binubuhat ang sarili kong anak, pero madami dito sa amin na nanghihinayang sa pagkawala niya kasi talagang napakabait na bata.”
(There are a lot of people who can testify to my son’s goodness and nothing bad can ever be said about him. I’m not saying this just because he’s my son, but a lot of people have felt bad about his death because he was really a good kid.)
His death was a surprise to many who knew Oman as the good son who did odd jobs to help his family, the loving grandson who spent the last hours of his life tending to his 71-year-old, half-blind grandmother, and the selfless community member who served as a sacristan in the local parish, among others.
“Talagang nagulat silang lahat at hindi sila makapaniwala (Everyone was surprised and they really couldn’t believe what happened),” Cecil said.
His family, however, couldn't help but feel hurt by the various comments online accusing Oman of being involved in illegal drugs.
“Ang hiling ko lang sana ay huwag nilang husgahan ang anak ko kasi patay na nga, kawawa naman,” Cecil stressed. “Marami pa kaming naririnig na masasakit na salita.”
(I just wish people would stop judging my son. He’s already dead, I pity him. And yet we still hear a lot of hurtful words.)
It was Zaldy who was reportedly notorious for being involved in the drug trade.
“Dalawang kagawad na sa amin ang nagsabi na wala talaga, na hindi sangkot si Oman sa kahit anong droga,” Cecil explained. “Nadamay lang talaga ang anak ko kasi nagkataon na nasa maling lugar lang siya.”
(Two village officials already said that Oman wasn’t involved in illegal drugs. He was just at the wrong place at the wrong time.)
Melandrew, meanwhile, cited the coroner’s report that said Oman’s body had no trace of illegal substance.
“Sabi pa nga nila, sayang ang batang ito kasi malinis ang katawan,” he said. “Malinis siya at mabuting anak.” (They even told us that it’s a pity since his body’s clean. He’s clean and a very good son.)
Oman is just one of the many individuals killed by unidentified gunmen.
In Dagupan City, for example, a 22-year-old graduating honor student was also found dead the day Oman was killed. She also did not fit the profile of a drug suspect.
“It's just alarming to say the least that a life can be snuffed out anytime just by being at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Melandrew said. “Oman’s case is not an isolated case as there are other killings that are being perpetrated on suspects, but it's easy to label one as a user or a pusher.”
According to data from the Philippine National Police, as of August 22, over 1,160 individuals have been killed outside police operations. With 900 drug personalities killed in legitimate operations, as of August 31, this brings the total number of drug-related deaths to at least 2,160.
PNP Chief Director Ronald dela Rosa said during a Senate hearing on August 22 that those killed outside legitimate operations are considered "deaths under investigations." Perpetrators are unknown.
The lack of identifying features – most suspects wore bonnets over their heads – hinder the investigation process and eventually, also prevent families of victims from attaining justice.
Julian, the sole witness, was not able to see the face of the gunmen who killed both Zaldy and Oman. Police Inspector Enrique Columbia of Dagupan City Police District’s Investigation Unit told Rappler that investigation is still ongoing based on his statement.
Cecil wants justice to be served. But the lack of information on who might be responsible for the death of her son sometimes makes her feel hopeless.
“Kahit naman magdemanda kami, hindi naman alam kung sino ang pumatay sa kanya kaya sino ang ituturo namin (Even if we file a case, we still don’t know who killed him so who will we blame)?” she asked.
“Pero ipapasa-Diyos na lang namin iyong mga gumawa nito sa kanya. Diyos na ang bahala sa kanila (But we will leave it to God to judge them. The Lord will be the one to judge them).” – Rappler.com
*Name has been changed for protection
Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.