“President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to block access to records of police killings in the drug war is a clear and undeniable pronouncement that this government openly encourages impunity.” — Cristina Palabay, Secretary-General, Karapatan
Never has there been a Philippine President that scandalized the country by his statements and public behavior as much as Rodrigo Duterte. He is on record to have ordered mass killings, rape, shooting women in the vagina, cussing the Pope, dismissing the occupation of Philippine territory by foreign countries, among many others. He also sexually harassed overseas workers, journalists, and fellow government officials in public. All the while, his apologists dismiss these as mere “jokes”. #
(Alay kay Dandy Miguel)
Ni Raymund B. Villanueva
Domingo de Palaspas nang ika’y patayin
Ng mga kalul’wang ‘di marunong mangilin
Akala ba nila’y kayang paslangin
Ang paninindigan mong maningning?
Tulad nila ang mga sundalo
Ng demonyong imperyong Romano
Ikaw nama’y tulad ni Kristo
Obrero, sugo’t rebolusyonaryo.
Kung ang kay Hesus ay katubusan
Oremus din ang iyong panawagan
“Sahod, trabaho at karapatan
Ipaglalaban, hanggang kamatayan!”
Tigmak ng dugo ang iyong baro
Binutas ng walong punglo
Bantay sila’t maniningil tayo
Maka-uri ang ating apokalipto.
29 Marso 2021
Ni George Tumaob Calaor
May salo-salo sa gusali ng pangulo
may litson may birthday candle pang ibino-blow…
habang sa kabiserang banda ng bansang Pilipino
nagkukumahog sa pangamba ang mga tao…
muling ipapatupad ang ECQ
nang walang karampatang pag-aaviso…
tiyak maraming sikmura ang sa gutom ay mangungulo!
may sanggol kang mangungulit ng gatas sa iyo…
may asawa’t mga anak kang umaantabay sa pasalubong mo…
malinaw pa ba ang iyong paningin
sa mga aralin sa online class mo—
may load pa ba ang internet mo—
mababasa mo pa ba ang modyul mo?
sapat pa ba ang kinikita mo—
kumusta na ang trabaho?
berding uhay ng ginintuang butil pa ba
ang kumakaway sa palayan mo?
May salo-salo sa gusali ng pangulo
may litson birthday candle nito’y ibino-blow…
sa Canlubang, Laguna
ang Pangalawang Pangulo
at sa tinamo
ng tamang walo!…
marahas na binawian
ng buhay ito!
“The killings in Tarlac are not isolated incidents but are part of a pattern of abuse and impunity among the police, enabled by the current regime. From the drug war, war on critics, to quarantine enforcement, we reap the horrors today. #StopTheKillingsPH #EndPoliceBrutality” — Renato Reyes, Jr., Secretary General, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan
“There is simply no way that the elderly couple was even able to put up a resistance, let alone an armed one, against dozens of policemen armed with high-powered guns and artillery. Instead, as the narrative appears before us, the police are merely iterating their ‘nanlaban’ narrative to justify the tokhang-style murder of an elderly and sickly couple.” — Atty. VJ Topacio, son of the slain NDFP peace consultants Eugenia Magpantay and Agaton Topacio
Ginanap sa Metro Manila ang isang ‘Global Day of Action for Justice’ sa Bantayog ng mga Bayani sa Quezon City noong Agosto 19 na ang panawagan ay hustisya sa mga biktima ng pagpaslang laluna sa mga aktibista.
Binatikos ng mga progresibong grupo ang gobyerno na siyang tumatarget sa mga aktibista. Pinakahuli na dito ang pagpatay sa human rights worker na si Zara Alvarez ng Karapatan-Negros noong Agosto 17.
Noong nakaraang linggo ay pinatay naman ang Anakpawis National Chairperson at National Democratic Front consultant na si Randall ‘Ka Randy’ Echanis.
“But sadly, the more good you do for your fellow Filipinos in this country, the sooner you get to your grave.” — Mae Paner
by Pablo Tariman
She could have been my daughter
Or a neighbor’s sister.
Who would think of even
Killing her Monday night
On her way to a boarding house?
She is a church worker
And mother of an 11-year old girl.
How do you break the sad news
Of her mother’s death
And the bullets that riddled
Her young body?
She could have been a good teacher
In any rural school.
But she chose to live
With farm hands
Living an exploited life.
There is more nobility
With just being
The voice of courage
In a hungry, poverty-driven milieu
But life has better things
To teach her.
She found strength
Just living with the poor
And finding ways to empower them.
She knew she had it coming
When she lived a life
Inside detention cell
For two hapless years of her life.
It was then that
She learned to fear no one
While coping with death threats
In the remaining days
Of her life.
She probably drew fortitude
From the death
Whose lives also ended
Biting cold bullets
In their last working day
She didn’t fear
The state’s death squad
Inspired by a leader
Caught showing a dirty finger
On national television
On the day her life ended
With a rain of bullets.
I cannot imagine
How her daughter’s life
Would proceed without her.
Gone are the motherly nights
When she’d find courage
Just reading stories
To her dear little one
For a better day.
She has remained
A profile of courage
Even as she has lost count
Of more dead friends
Waging a good fight
In the countryside.
I like her brand of courage
And the nobility of her mission
Which you cannot say
Of that mad man
Running this country.
Not even the deadly virus
And threats of bullets
Could stop her
From finding strength and solidarity
With her exploited people.
She will find tears useless
On the day her coffin
Is lowered to her modest grave.
To be sure
She can use roses
Falling on her coffin.
The gentle thud of soil
Falling on her grave
Is enough to remind one and all:
She lived a brave struggle
Even during the dark days
Of the deadly virus
And of a brand of leadership
That has gone down
In such state of disrepute.
Her bravery was one of a kind.
And her name was Zara Alvarez.
* * *
By L.S. Mendizabal
(Trigger warning: Murders, mutilation of corpses)
“Pumarito ka. Bahala ka, kukunin ka ng aswang diyan! (Come here, or else the aswang will get you!)” is a threat often directed at Filipino children by their mothers. In fact, you can’t be Filipino without having heard it at least once in your life. For as early as in childhood, we are taught to fear creatures we’ve only seen in nightmares triggered by bedtime stories told by our Lolas.
In Philippine folklore, an “aswang” is a shape-shifting monster that roams in the night to prey on people or animals for survival. They may take a human form during the day. The concept of “monster” was first introduced to us in the 16th century by the Spanish to demonize animist shamans, known as “babaylan” and “asog,” in order to persuade Filipino natives to abandon their “anitos” (nature, ancestor spirits) and convert to Roman Catholicism—a colonizing tactic that proved to be effective from Luzon to Northern Mindanao.
In the early 1950s, seeing that Filipinos continued to be superstitious, the Central Intelligence Agency weaponized folklore against the Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon (Hukbalahap), an army of mostly local peasants who opposed US intervention in the country following our victory over the Japanese in World War II. The CIA trained the Philippine Army to butcher and puncture holes in the dead bodies of kidnapped Huk fighters to make them look like they were bitten and killed by an aswang. They would then pile these carcasses on the roadside where the townspeople could see them, spreading fear and terror in the countryside. Soon enough, people stopped sympathizing with and giving support to the Huks, frightened that the aswang might get them, too.
Fast forward to a post-Duterte Philippines wherein the sight of splayed corpses has become as common as of the huddled living bodies of beggars in the streets. Under the harsh, flickering streetlights, it’s difficult to tell the dead and the living apart. This is one of many disturbing images you may encounter in Alyx Ayn Arumpac’s Aswang. The documentary, which premiered online and streamed for free for a limited period last weekend, chronicles the first two years of President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign on illegal drugs. “Oplan Tokhang” authorized the Philippine National Police to conduct a door-to-door manhunt of drug dealers and/or users. According to human rights groups, Tokhang has killed an estimated 30,000 Filipinos, most of whom were suspected small-time drug offenders without any actual charges filed against them. A pattern emerged of eerily identical police reports across cases: They were killed in a “neutralization” because they fought back (“nanlaban”) with a gun, which was the same rusty .38 caliber pistol repeatedly found along with packets of methamphetamine (“shabu”) near the bloodied corpses. When children and innocent people died during operations, PNP would call them “collateral damage.” Encouraged by Duterte himself, there were also vigilante killings too many to count. Some were gunned down by unidentified riding-in-tandem suspects, while some ended up as dead bodies wrapped in duct tape, maimed or accessorized with a piece of cardboard bearing the words, “Pusher ako, huwag tularan” (I’m a drug pusher, do not emulate). Almost all the dead casualties shared one thing in common: they were poor. Virtually no large-scale drug lord suffered the same fate they did.
And for a while, it was somehow tempting to call it “fate.” Filipinos were being desensitized to the sheer number of drug-related extrajudicial killings (a thousand a month, according to the film). “Nanlaban” jokes and memes circulated on Facebook and news of slain Tokhang victims were no longer news as their names and faces were reduced to figures in a death toll that saw no end.
As much as Aswang captures the real horrors and gore of the drug war, so has it shown effectively the abnormal “sense of normal” in the slums of Manila as residents deal with Tokhang on the daily. Fearing for their lives has become part of their routine along with making sure they have something to eat or slippers on their feet. This biting everyday reality is highlighted by Arumpac’s storytelling unlike that of any documentary I’ve ever seen. Outlined by poetic narration with an ominous tone that sounds like a legitimately hair-raising ghost story, Aswang transports the audience, whether they like it or not, from previously seeing Tokhang exclusively on the news to the actual scenes of the crime and funerals through the eyes of four main individuals: a nightcrawler photojournalist and dear family friend, Ciriaco Santiago III (“Brother Jun” to many), a funeral parlor operator, a street kid and an unnamed woman.
Along with other nightcrawlers, Bro. Jun waits for calls or texts alerting them of Tokhang killings all over Manila’s nooks and crannies. What sets him apart from the others, perhaps motivated by his mission as Redemptorist Brother, is that he speaks to the families of the murdered victims to not only obtain information but to comfort them. In fact, Bro. Jun rarely speaks throughout the film. Most of the time, he’s just listening, his brows furrowed with visible concern and empathy. It’s as if the bereaved are confessing to him not their own transgressions but those committed against them by the state. One particular scene that really struck me is when he consoles a middle-aged man whose brother was just killed not far from his house. “Kay Duterte ako pero mali ang ginawa nila sa kapatid ko” (I am for Duterte but what they did to my brother was wrong), he says to Bro. Jun in between sobs. Meanwhile, a mother tells the story of how her teenage son went out with friends and never came home. His corpse later surfaced in a mortuary. “Just because Duterte gave [cops] the right to kill, some of them take advantage because they know there won’t be consequences,” she angrily says in Filipino before wailing in pain while showing Bro. Jun photos of her son smiling in selfies and then laying pale and lifeless at the morgue.
The Eusebio Funeral Services is a setting in the film that becomes as familiar as the blood-soaked alleys of the city. Its operator is an old man who gives the impression of being seasoned in his profession. And yet, nothing has prepared him for the burden of accommodating at least five cadavers every night when he was used to only one to two a week. When asked where all the unclaimed bodies go, he casually answers, “mass burial.” We later find out at the local cemetery that “mass burial” is the stacking of corpses in tiny niches they designated for the nameless and kinless. Children pause in their games as they look on at this crude interment, after which a man seals the niche with hollow blocks and wet cement, ready to be smashed open again for the next occupant/s. At night, the same cemetery transforms into a shelter for the homeless whose blanketed bodies resemble those covered in cloth at Eusebio Funeral Services.
“Tama na po, may exam pa ako bukas” (Please stop, I still have an exam tomorrow). 17-year-old high school student, Kian Delo Santos, pleaded for his life with these words before police shot him dead in a dark alley near his home. The documentary takes us to this very alley without the foreknowledge that the corpse we see on the screen is in fact Kian’s. At his wake, we meet Jomari, a little boy who looks not older than seven but talks like a grown man. He fondly recalls Kian as a kind friend, short of saying that there was no way he could’ve been involved in drugs. Jomari should know, his parents are both in jail for using and peddling drugs. At a very young age, he knows that the cops are the enemy and that he must run at the first sign of them. Coupled with this wisdom and prematurely heightened sense of self-preservation is Jomari’s innocence, glimpses of which we see when he’s thrilled to try on new clothes and when he plays with his friends. Children in the slums are innocent but not naïve. They play with wild abandon but their exchanges are riddled with expletives, drugs and violence. They even reenact a Tokhang scene where the cops beat up and shoot a victim.
Towards the end of the film, a woman whose face is hidden and identity kept private gives a brief interview where, like the children drawing monsters only they could see in horror movies, she sketches a prison cell she was held in behind a bookshelf. Her interview alternates with shots of the actual secret jail that was uncovered by the press in a police station in Tondo in 2017. “Naghuhugas lang po ako ng pinggan n’ung kinuha nila ‘ko!” (I was just washing the dishes when they took me!), screams one woman the very second the bookshelf is slid open like a door. Camera lights reveal the hidden cell to be no wider than a corridor with no window, light or ventilation. More than ten people are inside. They later tell the media that they were abducted and have been detained for a week without cases filed against them, let alone a police blotter. They slept in their own shit and urine, were tortured and electrocuted by the cops, and told that they’d only be released if they paid the PNP money ranging from 10 000 to 100 000 pesos. Instead of being freed that day, their papers are processed for their transfer to different jails.
Aswang is almost surreal in its depiction of social realities. It is spellbinding yet deeply disturbing in both content and form. Its extremely violent visuals and hopelessly bleak scenes are eclipsed by its more delicate moments: Bro. Jun praying quietly by his lonesome after a night of pursuing trails of blood, Jomari clapping his hands in joyful glee as he becomes the owner of a new pair of slippers, an old woman playing with her pet dog in an urban poor community, a huge rally where protesters demand justice for all the victims of EJKs and human rights violations, meaning that they were not forgotten. It’s also interesting to note that while the film covers events in a span of two years, the recounting of these incidents is not chronological as seen in Bro. Jun’s changing haircuts and in Jomari’s unchanging outfit from when he gets new slippers to when he’s found after months of going missing. Without naming people, places and even dates, with Arumpacletting the poor do most of the heavy lifting bysimply telling their stories on state terrorism and impunity in their own language, Aswang succeeds in demonstrating how Duterte’s war on drugs is, in reality, a genocide of the poor, elevating the film beyond numb reportage meant to merely inform the public to being a testament to the people’s struggle. The scattered sequence, riveting images, sinister music and writing that borrows elements from folklore and the horror genre make Aswang feel more like a dream than a documentary—a nightmare, to be precise. And then, a rude awakening. The film compels us to replay and review Oplan Tokhang by bringing the audience to a place of such intimate and troubling closeness with the dead and the living they had left behind.
Its unfiltered rawness makes Aswang a challenging yet crucial watch. Blogger and company CEO, Cecile Zamora, wrote on her Instagram stories that she only checked Aswang out since it was trending but that she gave up 23 minutes in because it depressed her, declaring the documentary “not worth her mental health” and discouraging her 52,000 followers from watching it, too. Naturally, her tone-deaf statements went viral on Twitter and in response to the backlash, she posted a photo of a Tokhang victim’s family with a caption that said she bought them a meal and gave them money as if this should exempt her from criticism and earn her an ally cookie, instead.
Aswang is definitely not a film about privileged Filipinos like Zamora—who owns designer handbags and lives in a luxurious Ed Calma home—but this doesn’t make the documentary any less relevant or necessary for them to watch. Zamora missed the point entirely: Aswang is supposed to make her and the rest of us feel upset! It nails the purpose of art in comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comfortable. It establishes that the only aswang that exists is not a precolonial shaman or a shape-shifting monster, but fear itself—the fear that dwells within us that is currently aggravated and used by a fascist state to force us into quiet submission and apathy towards the most marginalized sectors of society.
Before the credits roll, the film verbalizes its call to action in the midst of the ongoing slaughter of the poor and psychological warfare by the Duterte regime:
“Kapag sinabi nilang may aswang, ang gusto talaga nilang sabihin ay, ‘Matakot ka.’ Itong lungsod na napiling tambakan ng katawan ay lalamunin ka, tulad ng kung paano nilalamon ng takot ang tatag. Pero meron pa ring hindi natatakot at nagagawang harapin ang halimaw. Dito nagsisimula.” (When they say there’s a monster, what they really want to say is “be afraid.” This city, chosen to be the dumpsite of the dead, will devour you as fear devours courage. But there are still those who are not afraid and are able to look the monster in the eye. This is where it begins).
During these times, when an unjust congressional vote recently shut down arguably the country’s largest multimedia network in an effort to stifle press freedom and when the Anti-Terrorism Law is now in effect, Aswang should be made more accessible to the masses because it truly is a must-see for every Filipino, and by “must-see,” I mean, “Don’t you dare look away.” #
= = = = = =
Buan, L. (2020). “UN Report: Documents suggest PH Police Planted Guns in Drug War Ops”. Rappler. Retrieved from https://rappler.com/nation/united-nations-report-documents-suggest-philippine-police-planted-guns-drug-war-operations
Ichimura, A., & Severino, A. (2019). “How the CIA Used the Aswang to Win a War in the Philippines”. Esquire. Retrieved from https://www.esquiremag.ph/long-reads/features/cia-aswang-war-a00304-a2416-20191019-lfrm
Lim, B. C. (2015). “Queer Aswang Transmedia: Folklore as Camp”. Kritika Kultura, 24. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/3mj1k076
Tan, L. (2017). “Duterte Encourages Vigilante Killings, Tolerates Police Modus – Human Rights Watch”. CNN Philippines. Retrieved from https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2017/03/02/Duterte-PNP-war-on-drugs-Human-Rights-Watch.html
The Roman Catholic Bishop of San Carlos in Negros Oriental Gerardo Alminaza requested the ringing of church bells every eight o’clock in the evening starting Sunday to protest the non-stop killing of civilians in the entire Negros Island.
“In anger and in a call for justice, in a spirit of communion and in a collective prayer, we exhort our parishes, mission stations and religious houses to ring our church bells every 8PM stating this July 28, 2019 (Sunday) until the killings stop,” Alminaza said in his pastoral appeal issued Thursday.
“Let the toiling of bells remind us that the senseless killings are inhuman. Let the tolling of the church bells call us to a collective prayer, for us to beg God to touch the hearts of perpetrators, as we call on responsible government agencies to effectively address the series of deaths,” the prelate added.
Alminaza’s pastoral appeal is entitled “Exhortation to Government to Act on Ending the Killings, issued on the Roman Catholic saint St. James the Great on July 25, a day marked with a fresh wave of bloodletting throughout the province.
Hours after the bishop issued the appeal, a father and child were shot dead in Sta. Catalina town, the sixth and seventh fatalities in a particularly bloody day in Negros Oriental, local news outfit Visayas Today reported.
Sta. Catalina police said Barangay San Jose council member Ramonito Nuque reported the killing of Marlon Ocampo and his unidentified child at Sitio Tara at around eight o’clock. Ocampo’s unnamed wife was also wounded, the report said.
The day started with the murder of school principal Arthur Bayawa and his school supervisor sister Aldane by gunmen who barged into their home in Barangay Hibaiyo in Guihulngan City at one o’clock in the morning.
Less than an hour later, Barangay Buenavista chairperson Romeo Alipan, was also shot dead inside his home in the same city.
Later in the day, gunmen also killed Raklin Astorias in Siaton town and Reden Eleuterio in Ayungon town, Visayas Today reported.
Bishop Alminaza said that the “barbaric deaths” of the victims, all happening in one day, are “manifestations of a total absence of peace and order.”
He challenged local government officials of the province to break out of their silence on the killings.
“Government leaders of the City of Guihulngan and of Negros province, please speak up! Let not your silence add to th growing number of killings. Let not yout silence embolden more the criminals. Be bold and join us in the cry to end the senseless killings!” Alminaza said.
The prelate also called on the police and military to protect the people, promote peace and “not act to instil fear.”
“Maintain peace, do not create violence Act within the law, not beyond it,” the bishop said.
Thursday’s pastoral appeal is Alminaza’s second this week.
Last Wednesday, Alminaza issued his first pastoral letter appealing for an end to violence following the killing of lawyer Anthony Trinidad in Guihulngan City.
He also called for the resumption of peace talks between the government and communist rebels as well as a meeting of clergy and lay leaders to discuss how they could help stem the bloodshed.
Activist groups and human rights defenders blamed Duterte’s Memorandum Order 32 of November 2018 ordering additional troops to for the increasing number of attacks against civilians.
“Negros is now fast turning into a killing field and this should be stopped immediately,” Bayan Muna Rep. and human rights lawyer Carlos Zarate said Thursday.
“While we strongly demand justice for these innocent victims, we likewise strongly condemn the inutility of authorities in putting a stop to this utter madness,” Zarate, a human rights lawyer, added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)