DAVAO City–This week, I was in a dialogue group with people living in fear of police due to the War on Drugs, when a young artist from Tondo shared how police special forces entered his house in plain clothes, looking for an alleged drug user under a fake name. They then took pictures of the displayed picture of his 62-year old grandfather and left. Another experienced community organizer immediately told him, “Brod, send your Lolo to the province, he is in danger.” The young man replied, “But who will take care of his responsibilities around the house?” and his friend answered, “How will he take care of his responsibilities if he is dead?”
Since July, various groups and individuals, myself included, have spoken, written, lamented, organized, and sought various avenues to express our revulsion to the nearly 6,000 mostly poor, urban men, killed in the war on drugs. These victims were often the bread winner of their families, many had been, or were involved in drugs, some were innocent bystanders, others were simply killed to fill police “quotas.” Regardless of their status, occupation, or alleged criminal activity, none deserved to die in such a manner.
In addition to the dead, are hundreds, perhaps thousands of people who have fled across the Philippines after being tagged as a drug user, or left in fear after a family member was killed, afraid to speak out and afraid to stay, in silence they melt away. It could be the largest internal displacement in years, but no one is even tracking the numbers, it remains invisible.
Yet in spite of our efforts, nothing changed, the killings continue. We have been confounded at the silence of many leaders, in particular, in our churches, mosques, and places of worship. We are appalled at the apparent widespread disregard for the dignity and sanctity of life, of the image of God imprinted in all people. Imagine if these had been environmentalists, social activists, gender-equality advocates, or church workers who were being wantonly killed. If any other social group was being picked off in ones and twos (and occasionally massacred in groups of 5 or 10) by state security forces and paramilitary death squads, and their bodies left in the streets, I doubt we would be so immobilized.
But I am not giving up; I am leveling up.
This past weekend, US Military veterans started arriving in Standing Rock, North Dakota, to join with hundreds of Native Americans and their allies to protect the Ancestral Domain being threatened by the Dakota Access Pipeline. They even brought protective gear knowing that Native resistance had already encountered rubber bullets and water canons. They were committed to standing together, and if necessary, standing in the gap to prevent further aggression. For the veterans, not only was it an act of solidarity against oppression, but an act of repentance to prevent a repetition of past sins, an initial reparation for the impunity of their colonial ancestors.
A few weeks ago, a Philippine Army general said plainly to me out of the blue, “We need to have a forum… to discuss the issue of impunity. How can we have peace without justice? Our credibility is being ruined.”
The time for talk is over.
Over the past few weeks, as I have traveled between Manila and Davao, I have noticed a new non-partisan, post-ideological movement of intergenerational activists mobilizing to confront the massive killing and impunity that is happening every day across the Philippines.
My question for the rest of the Filipino people, in particular, the members of the Philippine Armed Forces and police, speaking as a fellow veteran (I spent six years in the US Marines before I became a conscientious objector), is this: Who will stand peacefully yet assertively, like those veterans at Standing Rock, for these thousands of dead Filipinos, and for the credibility, honor, and integrity of the police, military and security forces whose reputation has been stained blood red over the past few months?
At Standing Rock, a small group of non-violent but courageous activists of all backgrounds exposed the inherent instability of state oppression by standing unarmed between rubber bullets and water cannons.
Who will stand in the gap between Filipinos and real bullets?
(Jeremy Simons was born and raised in the Philippines and has been a resident of Davao City since 2008 working as a peace and reconciliation advocate. He teaches conflict transformation at a variety of institutions and NGOs. He spends the majority of his time in restorative justice and peace accompaniment with Lumad First Nations and Muslim communities in Mindanao. He is a member of Katilingbanong Pagtambayayong, a group of concerned people working for the humanization of justice across the Philippines. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)