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Meet the parents

And so it has come to pass, after over 13,000 executions of alleged drug users and pushers, the killings have become personal. Finally, thanks to a CCTV camera that the police forgot to disable,  an extra-judicial killing of a teen was recorded in Caloocan, and the public has awakened to the horror that poor Filipinos living in depressed neighborhoods have had to live with every day and night for the past 14 months. 

So strong was the reaction to the deaths of Kian de los Santos and Carl Arnaiz that the President had to do damage control and arranged to meet the boys’ parents.

For the longest time, the victims of the drug war were nameless, identified only by generic signs that read: “adik – wag tularan.” But they were not faceless enough and many were found with heads wrapped with packaging tape to make sure they would not be recognized.

They were also lumped together as the scum of the earth, people who had no right to live. Are they even human? the Secretary of Justice asked. The President gave free rein to the police to arrest and kill — if necessary, even teaching them how to make it necessary. Kill them if they fight back, and if they don’t fight back, make them, he said.  He made it okay to plant evidence, as he said he had done when he was a prosecutor in Davao City before he became mayor. And he promised that he had their backs. No cop will go to jail in this war against drugs, he said. If they are ever convicted, he will pardon them straightaway. In fact, he declared, as president who encouraged such vicious behavior, he would even pardon himself!

No one can deny that such statements were tossed around by the President himself. Our ears are still ringing with his deadening and deadly rhetoric. He repeated these so often, they became part of the national dialogue — expletives and all, and the modus of the police who are the designated executors of his war on drugs.

Apart from the nightly ritual of men and women in SOCO T-shirts grimly setting up yellow tape around a crime scene and taking pictures of bloodied dead bodies, we have no idea what becomes of these cases, whether or not anyone bothers to investigate them. After all, the victims’ families are mostly poor and powerless.

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As the war on drugs assumed primacy in the agenda of the administration, the President’s deadly language quickly became the soundtrack of our daily lives. And like ubiquitous elevator music, we learned to tune out his curses and threats that entered one ear and out the other. 

But the summary execution of Kian de los Santos, 17, followed by the murders in quick succession of Carl Arnaiz, 19, and Reynaldo de Guzman, 14, brought home the brutality of the war on drugs to many Filipinos.  The assaults on the three young boys raised anger and caused anxiety in the public that no one’s children are safe from the insanity of this war.  When Reynaldo was found floating on a creek in Nueva Ecija, his pubescent body bearing 31 stab wounds, his face wrapped in packaging tape, the public’s reaction was visceral.

STOP THE KILLINGS! Facebook, Viber, and Twitter exploded in grief, anger, and frustration.

And suddenly, the President who just recently rejoiced in the harvest of 32 neutralized alleged addicts in one night’s operation in Bulacan, was meeting the parents of the murdered youth. The picture of compassion and empathy, he promised them justice, jobs, and protection from possible retaliation by the killers of their children. It gave me goose bumps seeing Kian’s bereaved parents posing for a picture with the President, one arm thrust forward in the deadly Duterte fist. 

The President now says he never ordered the police to kill anyone, especially children, raising eyebrows among the public that has been constantly fed his maniacal monologues.  He also said Kian would not be the last victim, because his war on drugs will continue until the end of his term. 

While the grieving parents of Kian and Carl — disempowered by poverty — may feel secure, after having been recognized by the President himself, the President’s gesture comes too little, too late. Besides the parents of the three recently murdered teenagers, there are over 13,000 other families that have experienced loss through violence that his rhetoric has encouraged. They never got any attention, least of all, assurances of justice, jobs and security that Kian’s and Carl’s parents have been given.

Until the public rose in anger, the President never ever made time to meet the parents.

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