war on drugs

Patricia Evangelista: In this country, silence is consent

John Sitchon

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Patricia Evangelista: In this country, silence is consent

BOOK TOUR. Investigative journalist and author Patricia Evangelista speaks to a crowd during the book signing for her recently published book 'Some People Need Killing,' at the UP Cebu Performing Arts Hall on April 22, 2024.

Jacqueline Hernandez/Rappler

'If we don’t speak, if we don’t report, if we don’t tell the story, we never said no,' Rappler’s former investigative reporter and author of 'Some People Need Killing' tells Cebuanos

CEBU, Philippines – Journalists, human rights lawyers, student activists, and even survivors of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war reunited and relived the stories of their lives during investigative journalist Patricia Evangelista’s visit to the University of the Philippines in Cebu on Monday, April 22.

In a talk with UP Cebu Professor Mayette Tabada, the author of Some People Need Killing recounted the nights she spent chasing after the stories of victims, their families, and the trauma left behind by vigilantes and the lives they took away.

“I was reading their stories and it seemed to me that they were operating slaughter like a bureaucracy—like it was an office. There are lists and if you’re very good, everyone dies because you’re efficient…It’s ridiculous to reduce death to a bureaucratic line,” Evangelista said.

In some of those stories, the journalist had met individuals that were part of an “anti-crime unit” that were given hit lists of suspected lawbreakers. One of them, she said, was tasked with burying the bodies and sometimes, pinning them down before the killing blow was dealt.

“My job is both to tell the story and to reduce it to what it means, which is in this case, that that is how little we think of death—that it is a checklist,” Evangelista said.

In 2019, the journalist looked into the murders of Ricardo Reluya and other local officials from San Fernando town in Cebu province. Reluya and his wife Lakambini were ambushed almost a week after seeing threats posted against them on a social media group called Mga Estorya sa Politika sa San Fernando (Political Stories from San Fernando).

At the time, a certain social media user linked San Fernando politicians, including Reluya, to the drug trade in Cebu. Evangelista titled her two-part series, “The Kill Lists of San Fernando.”

“Across the country, there are people who did hold down the body, sometimes metaphorically, sometimes literally. Here, in this country, silence is consent because if we don’t speak, if we don’t report, if we don’t tell the story, we never said no,” Evangelista said.

When asked what her message was to those who were witnesses to the drug war, she said, “tell your story. If you see something, you resist if you want to resist.”

“If you don’t dare, keep a record. Keep your own record. Keep it honest, keep it well, and speak whenever you think you can…and sometimes, even when you think you can’t.”

To survive

Johann “Panki” Nadela, a community organizer, cried the day he heard his friend was shot dead on his way home. His friend “Kaloy” was an active member of IDU Care, an organization that Nadela founded to support the advocacy of harm reduction for persons who use drugs (PWUDs).

On Monday, during Evangelista’s talk, the same tears rolled down his face once more.

“There was a possibility that it could’ve happened to us…it was a huge possibility,” Nadela told Rappler.

Since 2015, Nadela has been working with communities for outreach programs centered on case-finding and service-delivery for PWUDs and persons at risk of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

He never forgot the words “shoot to kill” that came out of Duterte’s lips at the beginning of his term in 2016. Two of his friends, also IDU Care members, were victims of the former president’s drug war.

“If it wasn’t the war on drugs that killed them, it would’ve been the severe health conditions they had to go through…the lack of access to services, it was just dominoes,” the community organizer said in Cebuano.

Taking Evangelista’s words to heart, Nadela shares that he brings the stories of his friends with him all the time when spreading the harm reduction advocacy. Whether to attend conferences with the United Nations (UN) or hold seminars in villages, Nadela believes that his friends’ stories continue to live on.

“They live on…I just have to tell the story.”

To honor the dead

Among the crowd was Nico Booc, the younger sister of slain Lumad school volunteer teacher Chad Booc, who was moved by Evangelista’s message on resistance.

Nearing the end of Duterte’s term in 2022, the military reported that Booc’s brother, whom they alleged was a New People’s Army (NPA) rebel, was killed in a series of “encounters” in New Bataan town in Mindanao. 

However, many organizations, including residents of Barangay Andap in New Bataan, claimed that there were no encounters between the NPA and the military. The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) also denied the military’s claims on the encounters.

Chad, who had been on the receiving end of multiple red-tagging attempts and threats in the past, is remembered by his peers for his efforts to educate the children of indigenous families in Mindanao and to stop the militarization of Lumad communities.

In honor of her brother and in admiration of Evangelista’s words, the younger Booc told Rappler that she would continue his fight.

“Even right now in processing my grief, I do so by remaining in the collective movement, by forwarding the same calls as him, not because I want to mirror what he did but because I believe in the same calls,” Booc said.

“I resist by simply continuing despite the grief and transforming this grief into revolutionary courage…I resist and remember.” – Rappler.com

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