By Visayas Today
Two Filipinas who lost young sons to the bloody war on drugs being waged by President Rodrigo Duterte believe their hopes for justice received a major boost after letters they wrote seeking the help of Pope Francis were received by the pontiff’s aides in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday, October 9.
Marissa Lazaro, who lost her 20-year old son Chris in 2017, and Katherine Bautista, who found her 21-year old stepson John Jezreel in a Manila morgue days after he went missing in January 2017, were in Rome as part of the post-performance talk of the play “Tao Po” (Is Anybody There?), a four-part monologue by cultural activist Mae Paner, who portrays characters from the murderous campaign that human rights groups say may have claimed upwards of 30,000 lives since mid-2016, when Rodrigo Duterte became president.
The play is making the rounds of six European cities, including Rome, which hosts thousands of migrant Filipino workers and where supporters of Duterte have mounted a campaign to boycott the performance.
The two mothers are involved with Rise Up for Life and Rights, a faith-based support group for families of victims of extrajudicial killings that has filed a complaint against Duterte before the International Criminal Court.
This week, Rise Up, supported by the National Union of People’s Lawyers filed a petition asking the ICC to admit more evidence against Duterte.
In response to the ICC’s opening of a preliminary examination into the allegations, Duterte withdrew the Philippines from the Court, which maintains it retains jurisdiction over complaints filed while the country was still a member.
Bautista and Lazaro had to maneuver through the crush of thousands of people who filled St. Peter’s Square for the Pope’s general audience.
In a message to reporters on social media, Lazaro said: “Nag-abot ang paningin namin ni Pope. Saya-saya ko kasi nung abutin nung mama yung sulat, ko pakiramdam ko nakarating sa kanya ang mensahe para sa hustisya sa anak ko.”
(The Pope and I locked gazes. I was so happy when an aide accepted my letter, I felt certain my message asking justice for my son had reached him.)
Bautista, on the other hand, said she wept: “Naiyak ako. Iba pakiramdam ng saya na sa Roma ko pa nakita ang Papa. Paulit-ulit akong nagsabi ng, ‘Please get this’! Kaya nung kinuha ang sulat ko nakaramdam ako ng pag-asa hindi lang para sa stepson kundi para sa lahat ng biktima ng walang habas na pagpaslang sa Pilipinas.”
(I cried. It’s a different joy you feel seeing the Pope in Rome. I repeatedly said, ‘Please get this!’ Which is why when my letter was received I felt hope not only for my stepson but for all the victims of the indiscriminate killings in the Philippines.)
Even before the Tao Po team arrived, Duterte supporters have been hounding Philippine human rights advocates who have brought the campaign against the war on drugs to Europe, including the United Nations Human Rights Council.
In Iceland, which Duterte vilified for spearheading a resolution seeking an investigation into the war on drugs and its massive death toll, Lazaro was hounded by supporters of the president who interrupted her account at a forum of her son’s death and accused her of “dramatizing” her story. #