war on drugs

Abante says drug war victims’ families being afraid to speak publicly is ‘preposterous.’ He is wrong.

Jodesz Gavilan

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Abante says drug war victims’ families being afraid to speak publicly is ‘preposterous.’ He is wrong.

JUSTICE. Families of victims of extrajudicial killings light candles beside the portraits of their deceased relatives on July 18, 2023.

Jire Carreon/Rappler

(1st UPDATE) Maybe the legislator can benefit from a crash course on dealing with trauma and not blame the victims' families if they do not want to speak in public

If the House of Representatives truly wants to give justice to victims of Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, perhaps its human rights committee chairperson Bienvenido “Benny” Abante Jr. could benefit from a crash course on dealing with grief and trauma. 

Abante says drug war victims’ families being afraid to speak publicly is ‘preposterous.’ He is wrong.

Then maybe he wouldn’t be berating human rights lawyer Kristina Conti for bringing only three families to testify during the second day of the House probe on extrajudicial killings, saying that more should speak publicly if they want to get justice. 

Abante on Wednesday, June 5, said that “being afraid” is a “preposterous reason” to still hide, given that his committee promised protection to the families and that other Duterte-era officials already spoke of possible violations. He added that the Philippine National Police (PNP) has “compassion.” 

It’s the same PNP whose anti-illegal drug operations led to more than 6,000 deaths under Duterte and the same PNP that has yet to fully cooperate with independent agencies such as the Commission on Human Rights when it comes to investigations.

My goodness, how can we have justice here kung hindi lumalabas ang mga magulang ng mga biktima natin? That’s the reason why nahihirapan ang mga kapulisan natin,” Abante told Conti, secretary-general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers-NCR and long-time legal counsel of victims.

(My goodness, how can we have justice if mothers of victims do not come forward? That’s the reason why police have a hard time.) 

But Conti correctly clarified that not all families have the capacity and capability to publicly talk about their experience, emphasizing that “the psychosocial support that we provide to victims takes years, it’s retraumatizing for them…” 

Conti, an accredited assistant counsel at the International Criminal Court, did not even finish discussing the importance of sensitivity in handling trauma when she was abruptly cut off by Abante. He said he is laying his life on the line for the hearing. 

Ang frustration ko lang is this, dahil natatakot? Aba’y hindi na kailangan matatakot dito, kung ako nga tinatapangan ko ang sarili ko,” the legislator said.

(My frustration is that they are afraid. They have no reason to be afraid. Look at me, I’m being brave here.) 

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How can the legislator compare himself to how families – mostly coming from the poorest communities – deal with their quest for justice? After all, those left behind do not have the same protection and benefits that he, as an elected official, enjoys.

Kaya ba niya siguraduhin na kapag umuwi kami, hindi kami pasusundan? Na hindi magiging ulilang lubos mga anak namin?” Linda (not her real name) told Rappler on Wednesday. Her husband was killed by the police in 2016 and since then has had to move houses at least five times out of fear.

(Can he ensure that we wouldn’t be followed home? That our children won’t be full orphans?)

Abante told Rappler that families will be “well-protected” inside the House, but will still consult with the liaison officer and the House sergeant-at-arms on ways to provide protection outside.

“We could be able to offer them ample protection and I will talk to the sergeant-at-arms on what we could do about that,” Abante said after the hearing.

Conti said that there was even no offer of temporary accommodations for those who were scheduled to speak during the hearing.

“The temporariness of this hearing has permanent repercussions kasi public statements ito (because these are public statements),” she said. “Nakita ka ng lahat, nakita ka ng kapitbahay mo, nakita ka ng perpetrator (You’re seen by everyone, your neighbor, even the perpetrator).”

She also said that one way the House can help is to ensure protection from the police and even from prosecution.

Families that Rappler spoke with over the years consistently spoke of incidents of harassment and fear regardless of whether or not they decide to seek legal action. Many of these families were forced to leave their communities and livelihood to escape more violence, while those who stayed faced constant visits from police, as Rappler found out in early 2023.  

These experiences did not stop when Duterte left office in June 2022, especially as ICC developments continued to unfold.

“We allow the victims to process their grief and their healing at their own pace,” Conti reminded the House of Representatives. 

Let’s hope Abante keeps that in mind. – With reports from Lian Buan/Rappler.com


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  1. LA

    Abante ought to apologize to the victims’ families for downplaying the trauma and harassment they suffered at the hands of the people who are supposed to protect them, for ignoring their fears, for failing to acknowledge that this is a failure of the government. He doesn’t deserve to be in that committee, let alone be the chair.

  2. DV

    What triggered Abante’s outburst? Why direct his anger and frustration at the families? His comments can only lead to the silencing of victim’s families. He said the PNP has compassion. Talaga? Thank you Rappler for delineating the truth about the Duterte-led mass killings and exposing those whose motive is obfuscation.

  3. RB

    It is inconceivable that Bienvenido “Benny” Abante Jr. doesn’t understand why victims are afraid to report. Their loves ones were killed by ‘kill squads’ with prejudice by Duterte’s government lead by Deturte himself. Benny doesn’t understand why they are afraid?
    No. He knows. I would be afraid too and there isn’t a lot that scares me. Pray for the families and give them courage.

  4. NP

    I have watched the whole proceedings in the lower house and was shocked to see Abante blew his top a number of times, most of which are uncalled for and unreasonable. But at times laughing on trivial matters. I am afraid the sudden mood swings either indicative of BiPolar Disorder or 2nd childhood. It would be better for the house to appoint a committee chairman who is a lawyer and of proven integrity and understands the psychological & emotional issues the victims’ families are suffering. Abante’s rantings in the previous hearing may dissuade other victims to come out publicly. I believe Atty Gutierrez or Atty Nograles will be a good choice to become Chairperson and get away from the usual TRADPOL committee chairmen in the Lower House.

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and impunity beats, producing in-depth and investigative reports particularly on the quest for justice of victims of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and war on dissent.