Mom’s poetry seeks justice for epileptic son killed in drug war
MANILA, Philippines — Normita Lopez would always carry in her pocket a copy of the poem she wrote for her son, 23-year-old Djastin, in 2017.
Writing verses became Lopez’s way of coping with grief over the death of her “frail and epileptic son” whom police, in conflicting claims, said was shot on May 18, 2017, either in a “follow-up operation” or for resisting arrest in a drug sting.
Lopez and other members of Rise Up for Life and Justice, a multifaith group of families of drug war victims and their supporters, joined over a hundred artists, musicians and creative workers on Friday at Cubao Expo in Quezon City to express support for human rights through stories, songs and poems.
Art and creativity can be used to uphold the importance of human rights, according to Resbak, an alliance of artists, media practitioners, and cultural workers that “strongly condemns the lawless killings and human rights abuses perpetrated, ironically, by law enforcement agencies.”
The artists collectively lamented how the government’s war on drugs had become cover for questionable police operations, where “suspects were cornered, unarmed and isolated before they were shot dead at close range.”
For Lopez, the gathering provided a venue for her vow to seek justice for Djastin: “Bago pa man lang pumikit ang aking mga mata/Sana mabigyan na ng hustisya ang iyong pagkamatay, aking anak, (Before I close my eyes, may your death find justice, my son)” the grieving mother’s poem read.
That night, Lopez said she was more anxious to read her verses after receiving news that the Office of the Ombudsman had ordered the dismissal of and the filing of a murder charge against Police Staff Sgt. Gerry Geñalope, one of the officers in the operation that killed Djastin.
On Sept. 28, 2017, Lopez filed criminal complaints against Geñalope and Capt. Jojo Salanguit of the Manila Police District (MPD), as well as the MPD’s entire drug enforcement unit, as she disputed the police’s contradictory reports on her son’s death.
Djastin’s killing was among the cases that the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) submitted to the International Criminal Court (ICC) as the group accused President Duterte of committing crimes against humanity in the course of enforcing his brutal war on drugs.
While Lopez and the NUPL welcomed the Ombudsman’s move — the first by the Office of the Ombudsman against erring police in the war on drugs — they are determined to hold accountable the other lawmen tagged in Djastin’s killing.
“The NUPL-National Capital Region, counsel for the Lopez family, still maintains that PSI Salanguit, the leader of the operation, and all others involved should be liable for this murder and its possible cover-up … Those present in the scene and had control and direction over the operation must also be impleaded as principals, and/or part of a conspiracy,” said the lawyers’ group.
Not on drug watch list
Also at Friday’s gathering was Nanette Castillo, whose 32-year-old son Aldrin Castillo, was also shot dead, this time by motorcycle-riding masked men on a busy street in Tondo, Manila, on Oct. 2, 2017.
Castillo said the police had yet to produce a report or conduct an investigation on the death of her son, who was not even on any drug watch list.
The pain of losing her son, whom she described as part of her barkada (peer group), has turned into anger toward the administration. “Because of our silence, we have created a monster drunk with power and thirsty for the blood of poor Filipinos. We’ve lost too many husbands, siblings, children and loved ones in the drug war,” she told the audience in a monologue she delivered as Aldrin’s photo hung on her neck.
Lopez held as much rancor against the police whose contrasting versions on how her son was killed also differed sharply from accounts given by witnesses, who said the officers shot Djastin even while he was already having a seizure. They also testified that the gun found on her son was actually planted by the arresting officers.
She said she had learned that the MPD had been contacting members of her community talking about a possible “settlement” with her.
“But only my death can prevent me from pursuing the cases against them,” Lopez said. “We will never settle and we will continue our legal battle until we’re sure those policemen are sent behind bars.”
The NUPL maintains that all nanlaban killings—wherein the police claimed that the suspects were killed because they “fought back”—should be filed in court. The police may claim that they shot back in “self-defense,” the group said, but they “must convince the court, not just the public, that they were justified in their actions.”
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