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Searing cries, piercing questions at burial of Tarlac shooting victims

Who knew the week was going to end so bleakly in Barangay Cabayaoasan, Paniqui, Tarlac? On the week of Christmas at that.

On Sunday morning, December 27, hundreds of people lined the streets leading to the Garden of Angels cemetery. They wore either black or white shirts with the word "justice" printed across the chest.

Punctuating the mourners, every few meters, were police in fatigues and some 400 auxiliary police in blue uniforms, from the group named Police Hotline Movement Incorporated.

The cops and their auxiliaries were on hand to keep the peace, and to pay their respects to the dead whom they were helping to bury.

DOUBLE FUNERAL. Hearses carry the remains of Sonya and Frank Anthony Gregorio to the Garden of Angels cemetery in Paniqui, Tarlac.

Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

The sorrowful procession trailed two hearses covered in flowers and protest placards, bemoaning the fate of the mother and son who, a week ago, were getting in the mood for the holidays.

Among the sea of black was Ronalyn Cariaga, the widow of Frank Anthony Gregorio, who was killed by a policeman’s bullet on December 20. A relative carried their year-old son as Cariaga, weighed down by grief, rested her head on the hearse carrying her dead husband.

The other hearse bore Sonya Gregorio, Frank Anthony’s mother, whom Police Senior Master Sergeant Jonel Nuezca shot first during their fateful encounter the previous Sunday.

When she was killed, Sonya was clutching Frank Anthony, as she must have done when he was a boy, to keep him from trouble. Mother and son fell dead one after the other as the victims of a policeman’s rage, consummated by a government-issued gun.

The sky turned gray as the mourners walked. It shed rain as they headed toward the cemetery.

GRIEF AND TORMENT. Family and relatives grieve the tragic killing of Sonya and Frank Anthony Gregorio.

Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

A wide grave gaped on the ground, in which two concrete boxes lay side by side. In the moments before the twin coffins were laid down, the searing cries of the bereaved tore through the hush of the sympathizing crowd.

They were the shrieks and wails of a family whose agony few people ever know, whose two dearly loved ones were murdered in their presence, in a policeman’s moment of violent indiscretion.

On the week of Christmas at that.

Videos of the burial of the Gregorio mother and son shared on social media showed the auxiliary police raising their hands to their brows in salute, or placing them on their hearts as the two caskets, borne by their colleagues, passed in front of them.

The twin killings have shaken and enraged Filipinos, and cast a cloud of gloom over the holidays. For the police force, it was yet another incident to explain, and an occasion to insist that one member’s fault should not be blamed on them all.

TWIN GRAVES. Sonya Gregorio and her son Frank Anthony are buried side by side at the Garden of Angels cemetery in Paniqui, Tarlac.

Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

But Sonya and Frank Anthony Gregorio are only the latest names added to the list of victims of police brutality in the Philippines. Their killings have prompted lawmakers and other officials to call for a shake-up in the Philippine National Police, suspecting problems ingrained in the institution.

Nuezca, the Gregorios' killer, has been detained and charged with two counts of murder. Still, a dirge of questions and demands for justice echoed as his victims were buried on Sunday morning.

After all, Nuezca had a gun because he was a policeman, entrusted with the protection of ordinary Filipinos. The killing of the Gregorios bears layers of ramifications beyond resolving the murder cases.

According to the Inquirer, 14-year-old Mica Gregorio turned to her father Florentino during the funeral and asked, “Bakit, Pa? Bakit (Why, Pa? Why)?” The girl ached for an explanation for the tragic deaths of her mother and brother. – Rappler.com

JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.

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