Hundreds join Cebu rally tackling EJKs and healing
Teary-eyed and stuttering, Sister Ma. Elizabeth Dejan of the Religious of the Virgin Mary read the solidarity statement of Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma in front of different groups at the Capitol grounds for yesterday afternoon’s “Heal Our Land Sunday.”
She herself is a victim of extrajudicial killings (EJKs).
Her 48-year-old brother Jaime Dejan was killed by an unidentified gunman last August 5 back in their home province of Compostela Valley in Davao Region.
“He was 48 years old, may pamilya. Kabilang yung kapatid ko sa higit 13,000 na namatay, 13,000 na mga pamilyang nawalan ng kasamahan.
Napakasakit. Gusto kong sumigaw. Gusto kong tumawa to hide my feelings pero napakasakit pala if ikaw ang mawalan,” she said before reading Palma’s message.
(He had a family. My brother is part of the 13,000 people killed, 13,000 families who lost a member. It hurts. I want to scream. I want to laugh to hide my feelings but it is really hurting if you’re the one who has lost a loved one.)
Dejan recalled that they even went to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) following the death of her brother on the 75th birthday of their father to ask if he was involved in the illegal drug trade but was told that he was not.
But she admitted that his brother, who used to work in a small-scale gold mine, had a lot of friends or “connections” with “drug protectors,” but they’ve never known him to be involved in the illegal drugs trade.
As she joined close to 200 members of the Cebu Citizens’ Assembly yesterday, Dejan also called for a stop to all EJKs and other killings in relation to the administration’s war against illegal drugs.
“Hindi na ako nangangarap na ma-resolve ang kaso ng kapatid ko. Yun lang ma-stop ang EJKs sa ating bansa (Maybe, I’m not expecting anymore that my brother’s case will be resolved. I just hope that the EJKs will be stopped in our country),” she said.
Bannered by the Cebu Citizens’ Assembly (CCA), a coalition of various people’s organizations, political blocs and non-government organizations promoting people’s rights and welfare, several groups showed up during yesterday’s protest which started with a short program at the Capitol grounds.
The CCA is calling for a stop on the drug-related killings all over the country which, they said, has already reached more than 13,000 in just over a year into the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.
At the same time, they called for healing in the form of justice.
Despite continued calls to stop the killings, the CCA, in a statement, said that the Duterte administration has only managed to transfer the agency involved in the operations against illegal drugs from the Philippine National Police (PNP) to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).
“The war on drugs as a policy should be comprehensively addressed and the harm that was inflicted to the poor people should be investigated and if proven guilty, must be made answerable to the courts,” their statement read.
“Healing as admonished by the Church can only be pursued in the quest for a long lasting peace based on justice,” it added.
During the short program at the Capitol grounds, representatives from different member-groups of the CCA also gave their own speeches and messages of solidarity.
Among those who spoke was human rights advocate and chairperson of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) in Central Visayas Democrito Barcenas.
He lamented that in the 14 years during Martial Law, only 3,500 killings were recorded. But in just over a year into the Duterte administration, more than 13,000 have been killed already.
Aside from the FLAG, other groups present yesterday were Akbayan Youth, Magdalo, Sanlakas, Freedom from Debt Coalition, Silent Majority, Lihok Filipina, and Sentro, among others.
In the solidarity statement of Palma, which was read during the activity, he said that on the Heal Our Land Sunday, the church is calling for healing in a special way.
“On this Heal Our Land Sunday, CBCP (Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines) has exhorted us to gather in prayer, in particular, to ask for healing which is a stop to EJKs or killing related to war against drugs,” his statement read.
“While we support the program against drugs, we pray for healing that would put an end to the murder of the innocent,” it added.
Yesterday’s event was simultaneous with the CBCP-initiated procession from Edsa Shrine to the People Power Monument, where thousands joined the event (See separate story on page 6).
In a briefing with Cebu media, yesterday evening, newly appointed Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said he supports the church-initiated activities.
He said they don’t see the event as a threat of any kind to the President or its administration especially with statements from the church that it is not a political event.
“I’m happy that the prayer for healing happened and I’m happy it has occurred peaceful and in an orderly manner,” said Roque who was in Cebu.
He added that President Duterte, as a lawyer and former public prosecutor, “does not countenance murder.”
Sought for comment on the CCA’s statement that the Duterte administration has only transferred the mandate on the war against illegal drugs to PDEA from PNP in response to public clamor to stop drug-related killings, the fast-talking Roque enumerated several initiatives done by the administration.
For one, he said the war on drugs has been “hugely successful” in arresting “thousands” of drug pushers, affecting the supply of shabu, the prices of which has “skyrocketed” as a result.
Anecdotally, Roque added that in every community visit he’s done, people have been telling him that they are happy with the war against drugs which is making their communities peaceful.
He also underscored that it was only during the Duterte administration that the drug menace was made a priority and was exerted political will in combating it.
As to the transfer of mandate to the PDEA, Roque said that the President was just following the legal mandate of the agency and that it is also proof that the President is “a listening President.”
Roque said that deaths attributed to PDEA were “so much lower” compared to deaths attributed to the PNP.
“From now on, we would see a decline in collateral damage, if it is true that there are collateral damage,” he said.
“With PDEA taking the lead, we will have a professional approach in dealing with illegal drugs because they have far more experience than the PNP,” he added.
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