Grief turns to mission for women who lost loved ones in drug war

Michael Delizo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 09 2018 04:09 PM

Indignant Nanette Castillo presents other kin who have lost loved ones supposedly to the war on drugs in a protest rally in front of the Supreme Court in Manila, May 16, 2018. Michael Delizo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - It was under the scorching heat of the afternoon sun in Manila. 

Indignant Nanette Castillo, 49, was delivering a 30-minute expletive-laden speech at the top of her lungs in front of the shut gate of the Supreme Court. 

Around her neck hung a placard that told of where she drew her outbursts.

“Justice for Aldrin,” read the placard that had a photo of her son.

Nanette Castillo rants in front of the Supreme Court, having lost hope for justice for her slain son Aldrin, May 16, 2018. Michael Delizo, ABS-CBN News

In her protest speech, Castillo recalled how her son Aldrin was gunned down by seven masked men on motorcycles in a busy area in Tondo, Manila before midnight on October 2, 2017. 

“Binaril ng riding-in-tandem. Hanggang ngayon, walang imbestigasyon; hanggang ngayon, walang police report,” she said as police manning Padre Faura street kept watch.

(He was shot by riding-in-tandem [assailants]. Until now, there is no investigation. Until now, there is no police report.)

“Tuwing maalala ko ’yung anak ko, kumukulo talaga dugo ko sa gobyerno na ’to.” 

(Whenever I remember my son, my blood boils at this government.)

It was a brutal murder. 

The shadowy assassins opened fire at Aldrin who was then walking on a street to buy brandy in a store near his house.

He sustained two gunshots in his left cheek and another in his neck. He immediately fell and died in an instant, his face pressed against the pavement, turning red from blood flowing from his head. 

But it didn’t end there. 

One of the gunmen turned him over and shot him two more times in the chest. 

They then fled. It was a nightmare. An excruciatingly painful memory, Castillo said in an interview. 

“Araw-araw na wala sa tabi ko ang anak ko, para na rin akong pinapatay,” she lamented. 

(Every day that my son is not beside me feels like I'm also dying.)

“’Yung limang bala na tumama sa kaniya, araw-araw naramdaman ko ’yun.”

(It's like every day, I feel the five shots that hit him.)

Castillo was accompanied by several dozen chanting activists, including those who lost loved ones supposedly to the war on drugs. They gathered outside the high court to demand justice for unresolved killings under the anti-narcotics campaign. 

Among activists present at the rally was 62-year-old Mila David. Her mouth was taped symbolizing protest to how individuals linked to illegal drugs were being killed without due process. Manila, May 16, 2018. Michael Delizo, ABS-CBN News

Among them was skinny and white-haired Mila David who, at 62, also braved the intense heat and long march during the protest rally.

She wore a white shirt, black ribbon tied around her head as she grieved for the ruthless killing of her husband Armando, 64. 

Her mouth was taped symbolizing her protest to how individuals linked to the drug trade were being killed without a single chance to defend themselves in a trial. 

Mila David, 62, still grieves for the passing of her husband who was shot dead inside their house in Quezon City. Manila, May 16, 2018. Michael Delizo, ABS-CBN News

It was on the night of June 26, 2017 in Holy Spirit, Quezon City when a number of armed men forcibly entered the couple's house and shot Armando several times. 

“Tuwing nakikita ko ’yung puwestong pinagbarilan, lagi kong naalala talaga. Lagi akong umiiyak. Gusto ko na sana siyang kalimutan,” David stuttered, her voice soft as a whisper. 

(Whenever I see the crime scene I always remember the incident. I always cry. I want to forget him now.) 

Castillo and David both tagged police in the killing of their loved ones amid the government’s bloody crackdown against drug suspects.

They both insisted that their loved ones should have been given due process as they claimed they were innocent. 

The two women felt that with the shakeup in the judicial system- given the recent removal of Maria Lourdes Sereno as chief magistrate- justice for Aldrin and Armando may not come soon.

They vowed to continue the fight no matter what. 

Since the passing of their family members, Castillo and David have been making regular public appearances in opposition to the administration's war on drugs.

“Sa gan’tong paraan, mabibigyan kong katarungan ’yung pagkamatay ng asawa ko. Para mabawasan din ang sama ng loob ko, para maipaglabaan ko siya, para maisip niya na hindi ko siya pinabayaan,” David said.

(This way I can give justice to my husband's death. So that I could also ease my grudge, fight for him and for him to know that I did not forsake him.)

“Mula nang mamatay ang anak ko, itinuon ko na ang sarili sa mga protesta. Ito na lang ang magagawa ko para sa kaniya. Hindi ako papayag na mabilang lang siya sa statistics ng pinatay ng EJK (extrajudicial killings),” Castillo said.

(Since my son died, I've dedicated myself to activism. This is what I can do for him. I will not let him just be part of the statistics of extrajudicial killings.)

She was referring to the number of drug suspects killed in the war on drugs since firebrand President Rodrigo Duterte launched the campaign when he assumed presidency in 2016. 

New York-based Human Rights Watch said in its World Report 2018 that there were over 12,000 drug suspects killed in the Philippines’ anti-drug campaign from July 2016 to September 2017. 

Opposition Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV released his own study saying there were a total of 20,322 deaths in the crackdown since November 27, 2017.

But “real numbers,” according to the Philippine National Police (PNP), is more than 4,000 as of May 2018. 

The PNP and Malacañang have repeatedy asserted that government was not involved in extrajudicial killings and that those slain in police anti-drug operations had violently resisted arrest. 

But for those who have lost someone, the numbers are not a matter of debate. 

“Sabi nila, bloated daw ’yung 20,000. ’Yung 20,000, bloated pa rin daw. 4,000 lang daw. Palagay mo na, kahit ilang libo pa iyan, isang daan o isa, buhay ng tao ang pinag-uusapan,” Castillo said. 

(They say the 20,000 figure is bloated and that it's only 4,000. No matter if it's in the thousands, hundreds, or just one, we're talking about a person's life.)

David chimed in: “Kahit isang tao lang ang mamatay, mahalaga na ’yun.”

(Even if only one person dies, that's important.)

The heartbreaks of Castillo and David led them to volunteer for Rise Up for Life and for Rights, a Church-based non-profit organization supporting other families of those killed in the drug war. 

During the opening of classes, for instance, they helped distribute school supplies to children who lost their parents to slays linked to the campaign. 

They hope that one day their voices and tears would lead them to justice for the thousands killed in the drug war.