The activity under in Program Paghilom is aimed at helping widows and orphans of EJK victims, so that they can cope with the terrors and trauma from the killings they have witnessed and for some, have even survived.
Philstar.com/Euden Valdez
Loved ones of deceased drug war victims are finding healing in hiking
Euden Valdez (Philstar.com) - July 19, 2019 - 4:18pm

(Editor’s note: Some names in this article are not real.)

MANILA, Philippines — “Sa bawat apak, sa bawat hakbang, sa bawat akyat ng mga paa ko, parang nailalabas ko ang galit na nadarama ko.”

This is Roda, a mother and a widow from Tondo, Manila who lost her husband in 2016, during one of the countless anti-drug operations of the Philippine National Police, notoriously known as “Oplan Tokhang.” The tragic day happened on her birthday.

Three years after that tragedy, Roda was able to join a hike at Mt. Manabu in Sto. Tomas, Batangas, along with 10 other participants with similar experiences.

“Sa bawat apak, sa bawat hakbang, sa bawat akyat ng mga paa ko, parang nailalabas ko ang galit na nadarama ko.” Phistar.com/Euden Valdez

All were left behind by victims of killings before trial, the result of President Rodrigo Duterte’s vow to eliminate illegal drugs in the Philippines since he took office in June 2016.

“Para itong (pag-akyat) ‘yong pinaglalaban natin. Na kahit anong hirap hindi tayo dapat susuko. Hindi ko sukat akalain na makakaakyat ako (sa tuktok), ‘di ba?” expressed Crisanta, who also lost her husband, as well as her son to EJK in 2016.

The climb is just one of the many activities they undergo in Program Paghilom, aimed at helping them cope with the terrors and trauma from the killings they have witnessed and for some, have even survived.

Developed by a foundation in Manila, the five-step Program Paghilom include psychosocial-spiritual, educational and socio-economic interventions.

The Mt. Manabu healing climb, co-organized by Random Act of Kindness or RAK PH Mountaineers, was a first for the program. The participants came from Batch 1 and 2, and have already finished 12 structured sessions given to them for free.

“The initiation climb of the widows and orphans allowed them to see the need for them to confront their fears and to get our of their comfort zones,” Fr. Flavie Villanueva, founder of Program Paghilom, said.

“Each grueling step leads to a certain healing, each walk leads to a new realization, each fall leads to a new friend offering a hand, each turn leads to the peak! And upon reaching the top, one declares, ‘Ang sarap sa pakiramdam, parang heaven!" Then one realizes that mountain climbing is really like going through life,” said Villanueva, who was a mountain climber himself back in the 80s.

Tip of the iceberg

The healing hike’s 11 participants, composed of widows as old as 55 and orphans as young as 18, are just the tip of the iceberg.

The PNP claims that a revised total of 5,526 cases of killings within police operations have been recorded since Duterte launched the war against illegal drugs.

Human rights groups, however, insist that the death toll for extrajudicial killings could be much higher. Unaccounted for are what has been vaguely classified as "deaths under inquiry" and deaths from illegitimate police operations.

This staggering number equate to thousands upon thousands of affected Filipino families. Of this, more than 150 wives, parents, children, siblings are continuously being supported by Program Paghilom

“Countless more from Manila are in need of interventions. The program has touched the lives of many but we need to help more,” said Edward, a graduate of Program Paghilom and who has been diligently volunteering as a coordinator, assisting the new and incoming beneficiaries.

The Mt. Manabu healing climb, co-organized by Random Act of Kindness (RAK) Ph Mountaineers, was a first for Paghilom Program, which includes psychosocial-spiritual, educational and socio-economic interventions. Philstar.com/Euden Valdez

He has had his own share of misfortune after actively being involved in the case of his slain relative. He recalled how he was framed by the police during the year-long trial of the murder case, which resulted in the loss of his job.

Despite this, he chose to pay it forward just like what many of his peers did.

“Nakapagpa-graduate na po kami ng five batches. At ang mga guma-graduate po, sila na rin ang nagpapasok ng mga kakilala nila na naging biktima rin ng tokhang sa programa,” he said.

“This newest project seeks to contribute in advancing the cause of families left behind by the brutal drug war thru an immersive activity involving both the victim-survivors and interested volunteer hikers/climbers,” said a human rights lawyer and a climbing hobbyist who conceptualized the healing climb.

She added that besides healing for the beneficiaries, the project also incorporated awareness-raising for the volunteers.

Through the worst

The hikers, who were mostly first-timers, were clearly close friends with each other, teasing and cheering while on their way to the mountain’s summit.

READ: Casualties of Rody's war

But they weren’t always this tight. It took them almost a year to warm up and open up to each other, observed a human rights lawyer who accompanied them in the hike. 

“They have been through the worst, and yet you would never know that by looking at how they seem so strong and happy now,” said the lawyer who was also present at the healing climb.

Besides healing for the beneficiaries, the project also incorporated awareness-raising for the volunteers. Philstar.com/Euden Valdez

“Program Paghilom has certainly helped them in so many ways. They are now a lot stronger and empowered. They know the value of sharing each other’s pain and helping each other get through it,” she said.

Indeed, they share a unique friendship formed by an unbreakable bond.

It is thanks mainly to Mariel who took the initiative to talk to her batchmates. Yet the same woman had once thought of ending her life, since losing her father and sibling to the drug war.

Mariel realized that if she did, she would leave behind her younger siblings and no one would be there to take care of them anymore.

She related this experience to the stations of the mountain where the group could take a rest. “Sa buhay namin, kapag napapagod, pwede din pa lang magpahinga. Kasi dati, kapag napapagod ako, iniisip kong magpakamatay ako,” she said.

“Parang sa bundok, kapag napagod ka, magpapadulas ka na lang pababa? Hindi pwede. Kasi may kasama kang iba. Kapag nadulas ka, madadamay sila. Isipin mo ‘yong mga taong matatamaan mo. Pwede pa lang magpahinga. Hindi kailangang sumuko,” Mariel added.

COVER STORY EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLINGS WAR ON DRUGS
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