Thousands of Filipinos spent Sunday, November 5, at the Edsa Shrine and later, the People Power Monument.
The twin events, a Mass called by Lingayen Archbishop Socrates Villegas, and a prayer rally cum cultural program by Tindig Pilipinas, shared a call: "Stop the Killings, Start the Healing."
Everyone knows the context of "Stop the Killings."
Various human rights groups have protested the 12,000 killings since President Rodrigo Duterte came to power last year. Most of these have to do with the crackdown on narcotics that he promised during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The police say official operations led to nearly 4,000 killings.
Almost twice as many are lumped under the innocuous label, "deaths under investigation," which government blames on so-called vigilante groups or turf wars between rival drug gangs. Rights groups say evidence and eyewitness accounts indicate cops or their proxies are also behind these murders.
The aftermath of the Sunday gatherings consisted largely of bickering over the number of participants.
The police said 5,000 people attended the mass, the march and prayer rally. Tindig Pilipinas claimed 20,000 people joined the peaceful, “non-political” protest.
Amid the interviews and statements and social media flame wars, we missed the most crucial points.
Where were the direct victims of Duterte's bloody campaign, the survivors and the families of the slain?
Why weren't they on stage at the rally or given a part in Villegas' mass?
The families of Duterte's victims were there. The separate delegations of Baigani and Rise Up for Life and Rights included children, wives, mothers and fathers who have talked to journalists or in smaller gatherings.
Both groups tried their best to coordinate with church leaders and Tindig to give the families of EJK victims space and time.
But the families were shoved to the margins by both clergy and politicians. They barely got into the mass. Hours after, they were left to huddle among themselves and a few sympathetic souls, away from the lit up stage where songs and other art forms aimed to tell their stories.
They are articulate, these women and men, girls and boys who fight for justice against all odds. They write poetry to lost sons and songs to fathers they will never see again. They can narrate, minute by minute, the nightmares that claimed the lives of their kin and friends.
They speak in the cadence of truth: the rhythms of running feet and shouts and the thuds of bullets, the screams that rent their nights and days, and the lamentation that followed the killings.
The Nov. 5 organizers deprived them of the opportunity to speak on what had been drummed up as an important event.
Journalists, of course, have long tracked down these families and reported on their plight. But here were thousands of people coming together on their behalf. One assumes they also came to listen to the truth first-hand.
Fear and worldview
There is nothing wrong with speaking up for others. But there is no greater display of solidarity than stepping aside and ceding the platform to the otherwise voiceless.
Church leaders and politicians have access to media and the public any time they want. You can’t bill an event as a call to stop the killings and ignore representatives of the slain.
Between Villegas, with access to at least all the media platforms of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), and the mother, daughter or wife of a man slain while begging for his life, who should have taken precedence?
Hardest to understand was the absence of the EJK families on Tindig’s stage. Granting it was a “cultural program,” they couldn’t even find Nanay Normita, the mother with an elegy to her son?
Perhaps the heart of the problem can be found in the fervent reassurances that the event was not political, that the organizers had no intention of disturbing the peace, that they were not part of any destabilization plot.
You don’t respond to a tyrant with these reassurances. You assert the right to protest in the face of his abuses.
It makes people wonder about motives and worldview.
How can “Stop The Killings” be anything than political? How do you discuss the killings without tackling the infrastructure of injustice?
How can a wife’s rage not be political when the killers are cops? How can a mother’s lament not be political when her innocent son dies in a campaign that purports to save Filipino children?
Or, maybe, the problem lies with people seeing the EJK families as recipients of charity, rather than people already empowered by the experience of tragedy, with the right to organize and protest.
It is easy to embrace people as our wards, harder to grant them the rights and privileges we take for granted.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.