war on drugs

Soon to rise in PH: Memorial shrine for Duterte drug war dead

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Soon to rise in PH: Memorial shrine for Duterte drug war dead

DRUG WAR SHRINE. Priest Flavie Villanueva, former vice president Leni Robredo, former senator Leila de Lima, and forensic pathologist Dr. Raquel Fortun attend the groundbreaking ceremony for the Philippines' first memorial shrine for victims of extrajudicial killings.

Franz Lopez/Rappler

'Ang mga bantayog ay hindi lang para sa mga bayani, ito ay para sa atin, para hindi tayo makalimot,' says Bishop Pablo Virgilio David

MANILA, Philippines – A multi-sectoral group led by Catholic priests is behind a planned memorial shrine for the people killed in Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody drug war – a project that is hoped to serve as a reminder of the “government’s systematic killings” that should not be allowed to happen again.

The project is both practical and existential – it aids poor families who have no means to give their loves ones a final resting place, while preserving the national memory of the spate of violence that marked the Duterte administration.

Priest Flavie Villanueva, who had faced a sedition suit for his advocacy of helping families of drug war victims, is leading the donation-driven initiative to build the shrine that can house 100 to 400 columbaria of three to four urns each.

Villanueva and Bishop Pablo Virgilio “Ambo” David, Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines president, led the groundbreaking ceremony on Monday, December 11, an event witnessed by key opposition personalities, former vice president Leni Robredo and newly-freed former senator Leila de Lima.

“It should stand as a momental landmark that these are victims of the government’s systematic killings that should never be allowed to happen ever again,” said Villanueva.

Families of those killed under the name of the war on drugs, some of them killed by police officers conducting what they say were legitimate operations, had become unable to pay the lease in cemeteries, an estimate of P4,500 ($80) per term. Several of the victims had to be exhumed last year when they were evicted by the cemeteries.

The area for the shrine inside the La Loma cemetery in Caloocan, which is 36 square meters in size, was donated by the Diocese of Caloocan. It is free for at least the next 40 years.

David, who was also a consistent voice against killings under Duterte, said a memorial shrine is not only meant for the traditional heroes. (READ: Caloocan Bishop Pablo David: Shepherd of his slaughtered sheep)

“Ang mga bantayog ay hindi lang para sa mga bayani, ito ay para sa atin, para hindi tayo makalimot,” said David. (A shrine is not only for heroes, it’s also for us, so we don’t forget.)

Grass, Plant, Lawn
The design of the EJK shrine.
Truth commission

The families of drug war victims are calling for a truth commission, a transitional justice mechanism meant to investigate an issue usually from the previous government. Former president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III created a truth commission to investigate corruption allegations in the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo government, but the Supreme Court declared the commission unconstitutional.

“Nandito kami upang maging boses ng iba pang mga naging biktima. Nais naming imungkahi na mapakinggan din ang aming mga naratibo, ‘yung kuwento ng aming katotohanan bilang mga survivors,” said Mary Jane Gerangco whose brother was killed by police in September 2016.

(We’re here to be the voice of the other victims. We want our narratives to be listened to as well, the story of our truth as survivors.)

There is an ongoing International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into whether the killings was a state policy, also covering the killings of the mysterious Davao Death Squad under Duterte when he was still mayor and vice mayor of Davao City. Human rights groups estimate that there were 27,000 people killed in Duterte’s drug war. Retired Davao cop Arturo Lascañas, who had named Duterte as the mastermind of the Davao Death Squad, is now under ICC’s limited immunity.

While the Marcos government continues to take the position that local justice is working, it also said that the Philippine government’s cooperation with the ICC probe needs “serious study.” There are some cases, like Colombia, where the ICC supported a local special tribunal after which the prosecutor stopped the investigation. The extent of cooperation the Marcos government would be open to remains to be seen.

At the groundbreaking ceremony, Robredo urged the families of victims not to lose hope.

“Sana huwag kayo mawalan ng pag-asa. Totoo na mabagal yung daloy ng hustisya, pero alam nating lahat na bilog ang mundo. Makakamtan din natin ‘yung hustisya para sa mga namatay,” said Robredo.

(I hope you do not lose hope. It’s true that the pace of justice is slow, but we know that the world is round. We will obtain justice for the dead.)

De Lima has promised to help the ICC in its investigation. De Lima had investigated the drug war killings and the Davao Death Squad herself, both then-human rights chairperson under the Benigno Aquino III administration and later, as a senator.

“These are lost lives, lost dreams, lost opportunities. Mga naulilang pamilya, mga nawalang kinabukasan, mga naglahong kinabukasan (Orphaned families, lost future, lost possibilities),” said De Lima.

Randy delos Santos, uncle of teen Kian delos Santos whose killing in 2017 prompted Duterte to suspend his flagship campaign, said: “Kasabay po ng paglilibing natin, sana nakabaon na rin ang kultura ng pagpatay. Sana po ang bulwagang ito na gagawin, na paghihimlayan ng atin mga mahal sa buhay ay manatiling palatandaan, tama na po ang patayan. Itigil na po natin ang pamamaslang.” 

(As we bury the victims, may the culture of killing be also buried as well. May the hall that will be built, which will serve as our loved ones’ final resting place, serve as a reminded that killings should stop. Let us put an end to these killings.) – With reports from Precious Altura, Kae Kristel Muñoz, and Marie Flor Cabarrubias/Rappler.com

Precious Altura, Kae Kristel Muñoz, and Marie Flor Cabarrubias are interns with Rappler’s Justice, Human Rights and Crime Cluster. They are students at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) College of Communication. Learn more about Rappler’s internship program here.

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