Finding Kian: We remember. We mourn. We fight.
Restless and disturbed, I went to Caloocan City Sunday night, August 20, with friends to visit the boy named Kian de los Santos. Waze could only get us onto NLEX and the West Service Road. Beyond that, we had to resort to good, old pagtatanong-tanong to find Kian.
Cecille, sitting in front, must have a lot of faith in the Pinoy "uzi" tradition or ABS-CBN and GMA news reach to ask the first tricycle driver she saw: “Sa'n ho ang burol ni Kian?” To our surprise, the man gave us directions. Googlemap was saying something else, though. We decided to triangulate and found another person to ask. She gave the same directions.
We drove for another 3 or 4 kilometers based on the directions we got. Along the way, I wondered how Duterte’s PSG assessed the way to Barangay 160. Rumor had it that he visited Kian’s wake earlier in the afternoon. There was a long stretch of cogon field, it looked like we were leaving the urban jungle, but then I remembered we were still in Caloocan City.
The neighborhood we found ourselves in teemed with activities on a Sunday night. A big group, out on an alley, was celebrating a birthday with a karaoke party. A few meters away, we passed Kian’s old school, Libis Baesa Elementary School. And then there it was: Kian’s school supplies and candy eskaparate, and his white coffin. Born: May 26, 2000. Died: August 16, 2017. A true millennial whose life was cut short too soon. So many people in the alley, with neighbors and visitors (huddled or crowding) at tables and on benches, drinking alcohol, playing cards, or just chatting.
On top of Kian’s coffin was a yellow chick pecking on rice grains. Somebody said the chick’s pecking is meant to supernaturally peck away at his killers’ conscience. One of the women in my group said the chick’s stomach was already bloated and it almost fell off the coffin. My thought was: this chick will die soon and the killers’ conscience will be none the worse for wear. Poor chick. Poor Kian.
One of the men in the umpukan said he was accosted by policemen in earlier tokhang visits. He was only saved by his smelly, sweat-drenched clothes in his bag, as he responded to questions about what his business was. He was a construction worker.
Four of us in the group walked through the alleys and traced the path where Kian was dragged. From a narrow alleyway, we came to a wide open space, a basketball court. The time was about the same time as the night Kian was murdered. It was a busy place. There was an internet cafe. Lots of teenagers milling around. I was wondering how witnesses heard Kian pleading for his killers to stop beating him (“Tama na po, may test pa po ako bukas”). I could imagine it more clearly now.
The boys playing basketball must have known what we were looking for; they pointed us in the right direction. From the basketball court, the alleyways went downwards and were poorly lit and slippery. I was a bit nervous, but I could still hear the thudding of the basketballs and the sound of computer games. Two small children were playing and asked if we were there to see where Kian’s body was found. (WATCH: The dark alley to Kian delos Santos' death)
We let the children guide us deeper into the alleys. A man came out and told us to be careful – the path was slippery as it had been raining and mud from the upper alleys had descended in theirs. In hushed tones, he said he only heard the gunshots. He said he only goes home to rest from a whole day’s work. And then he added “umuuwi lang kami para magpahinga”. I was trying to understand what he was saying. I think he was saying he does not know what happens in the community during the day and is too tired when he gets home to even ask what is happening around him.
We found the spot where Kian breathed his last. Right beside a pig pen, and where a gaping hole in the wall served as a dike off the Tullahan River. As luck would have it, the hole was too small for Kian’s lifeless body to be washed off into the river. I asked the two children to buy candles and matches. Off they went and came back quickly, skipping as they ran. They knew the nooks and crannies and were sure-footed.
We lit the candles and silently meditated about what must have been going through in Kian’s mind as he lay there. Was he still thinking of the school exam the following day? In my experience of working with young people, their sense of “invincibility” is quite strong. Kian must have thought he was just being terrorized and that he would be going home to his family’s small store after the beating. (READ: PNP, PAO agree: Kian kneeling when killed)
We trooped back to the wake, finding our bearing, looking out for the basketball court and alert to the computer game noise. Life goes on for the teenagers milling around. It hit me hard, how the police brazenly dragged a boy through this public place and busy alleyways. They must have been secure in the knowledge that no witnesses will be brave enough to pinpoint them. Terrifying.
Another umpukan, this time of older men. They must have been going on for quite some time as the chattering was already slurred. In the chatter I heard one man said, “hindi sila Diyos para pumatay ng tao...due process...” Others were nodding but a few others admonished them with a “ssshhhh”. Martial law crossed my mind. Duterte does not need to declare martial law in this part of the country. Fear has already taken root: fear of being heard and fear of being ratted out.
Back at Kian’s wake, one last gaze on the slightly-built boy inside the white coffin. I put some bills inside the jar for abuloy and signed the visitors’ list. There was a girl sitting beside the coffin, Kian’s younger sister. I asked how she was. She said she was afraid to go out of the house now.
The tiny yellow chick was still pecking on the rice grains.
We remember. We mourn. We fight. – Rappler.com
Jing Pura is a social development worker with more than a decade of work in partnering with urban poor community associations to develop self-help social services and rights protection. She is currently working with an NGO that focuses on disaster preparedness.