[OPINION] Let our people go
There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death. – Proverbs 14:12, 16:25, English Standard Version
The root word of “end” in the Hebrew language is equated with “posterity.” One way the above verse reads is to consider that while man may justify an ungodly solution to a social problem, its posterity would be a harvest of death. A majority of the people may even agree with that ungodly way, but the result is still the same – what would be left behind is a trail of death and its decaying effect on society.
Take the manner by which government has executed the “war on drugs,” and its most immediate effect. Government has admitted to no less than 5,000 deaths occurring from 2016 to 2017 (the UN human rights office estimates 27,000). These deaths are either directly related to official police operations under the “war on drugs” or are part of the killings that spiked dramatically since President Duterte’s time. It would not be surprising if we discover that, since then, a generation of orphans, possibly more than 80,000, would have been created. At no other time in history other than during the Second World War and the armed revolutions against Spain and America have we seen such wide-scale orphaning of Filipino children.
Amid the constant barrage of news, entertainment, public accusations, and political posturings, the truth that we have now a generation of orphans has not begun to sink into our consciousness. Yet it faces us big-time, and it faces us long-term.
A basic question of justice is now before us: who will take responsibility for the orphaning of these children? Is it right that they are now being forcibly raised by single parents, by lolas, titos, titas, most of whom are barely able to scrape enough to live by? Is it right that the deepest imprints on their souls is one of unspeakable horror and injustice? Are we willing to feed, clothe, educate, spend lavishly to heal their broken hearts and spirits? What lessons shall we teach them? About man’s inhumanity? About justice?
What will our own children say to them: that we, their parents, kept silent when the others were being orphaned? What will we tell our own children when they ask us why we kept silent? That we were willing for those children to be orphaned so that our own children would be safe? Why, are their parents the phantoms that have haunted and threatened our children? What moral right have we to say to those orphans, that when they grow up, they cannot have their turn to take revenge on our children’s generation, on a society that has turned their backs on them and their parents?
We need to answer these painful questions and we need to answer them now.
The deeply shameful truth is that, part of the answers, the orphans themselves are willing to provide, if we would but listen.
The “Ulila” song was created for and sung by the Oyayi sa Unos choir to prevent the further orphaning of a generation. “Ulila” means orphan. Their choir name was the children’s choice from among several names – oyayi is Filipino for lullaby, and unos means storm. These children long for healing, and they are singing themselves a lullaby amid the storm that life has dealt them. This specific group of children come from Payatas in Quezon City, where hundreds of parents have been EJK’d. They form but a very small part of the thousands other orphans from all over the country, each with their story of grief. From the violent way their parents died, these children, in a very real way, have become victims of extrajudicial killings themselves.
One child said that the most painful thing she experienced was when nobody but nobody – no relatives, no friends – came to mourn with them during her father’s wake. She surmises it comes from fear of being tagged in the drug list. The orphans have had to endure grieving alone; they just felt so lost and abandoned by the world. Some had to endure the taunts of their playmates and neighbors – “’Buti nga sa iyo, drug addict kasi tatay mo.” – in the face of their protestations that their fathers were loving fathers, innocent, and not the scourge society was making them out to be.
I have talked with mothers and orphans, and not only from Payatas. Some EJK orphans saw their parents killed before their eyes, or had begged the police for their parents’ lives. One felt the cold steel of a police gun pointed at her head. Many attest that their fathers were roused from their sleep by authorities, and that their fathers had offered no resistance, yet they were killed. Mothers have told me of sons vowing to become policemen themselves in the future, to take revenge on those responsible for the murders. Many children are still in a state of fear, agitated with the presence of law enforcers; some are still exhibiting shock and other trauma symptoms.
These children of the Oyayi choir are asking all of us to face the question of collective responsibility, even while they are bringing us a message of hope. Listen to their plea:
Inulila ako ng bagsik at ng dahas
Silbi ko’y ’di batid at tila walang lakas
Ako’y pagal, salat, upod, at walang muwang
Kumakatok sa pusong mayro’n pang puwang
Sa bukang liwayway, binabati ng hamog
Mata kong luhaan, at ang lupa na baog
Takot at hinagpis ang aking idudulog
Sa Diyos na kupkupin bayang irog
Ang wasto, gagawin; ang mali ay uusigin
Bawat naliligaw, kapit-bisig na akayin
Bawat isip ay buksan, bawat puso ay baguhin
Dahil bawat isa mahalaga sa ’tin
Yumuko ang liwanag, pagsapit ng dilim
At dugo, dumadanak sa ngalan ng sakim
Dahil laging ito ang kailangang tiisin
Sa langit na bughaw tayo’y dadalangin
Bayan kong sakal ng hambog, ganid, at hangal
Panaigan nawa ng may dunong at dangal
Kung ang bawat isa’y tumayo’t manindigan
Ang kapwa magiging ating kanlungan
Sisibol ang pag-asa, pagbabagong marilag
’Pag nagsama maliit, ang buktot mabubuwag
Tunghayan sa watawat ang araw, ang bituin
Pagpapala sa bayan, sumaatin
[Repeat CHORUS 3x]
The loudest voice, the strongest violent will, can still be broken; that is a message of hope. That the small people can fight for what is right, and can win. That evil and violence will end and good will triumph. That the lost can be found and can be led to the right path; that everyone deserves a second chance, because every human soul is precious. That is Oyayi’s gentle call to us.
Those who are lost, sadly, and who want or need to find their way back, are not only those who are afflicted with drug and other kinds of addiction. There are those among us who are internally beleaguered because they had cooperated or cheered on the senseless killing of people. For it is a sad truth that when a human being violates what he believes is right, there is a restlessness, a sense of lostness that descends on the human soul. There are many stories of policemen who feel so abandoned, adrift and lost, afraid of the consequences of their cooperation with a very violent campaign that have shocked many of them. They know they have broken their oath to protect the people, yet they have not found strength among society’s leaders so that they could resist. Their consciences bother them, they do not know what to do when the man who has promised to protect them from the consequences of their illegal actions leaves. And he will leave, as everyone will have to.
It is but a sign of the hollowing of our souls, of the deadening of our conscience as a people, of the negating of our very identity as Filipinos. We who call ourselves a loving and compassionate people, a Christian nation, do we even know who we are now?
So my call to my fellow Filipinos, as in the days of Moses, when the people cried out to God, and when Moses said to Pharaoh, “Let my people go,” let us all pray to God and raise our voices that we may be freed from our apathy, from our lack of love, from our indifference to the plight of our fellow Filipinos, each of them made in the image of God. Moses told Pharaoh that the Israelites must be freed so they can worship their God and claim their identity as a people.
As we remember the love that compelled Christ to offer His life this Holy Week for the redemption of countless souls and the healing of many lives, let us reclaim our identity as a compassionate people, a people who would not give up on our brothers and sisters. We must heed the orphans’ cry and say, “Enough of the killings!” Let us live again as we should, as God would have us live. – Rappler.com
Maria Lourdes Sereno is a former chief justice of the Philippine Supreme Court.