Justice delayed: What the ICC probe means to drug war victims’ families (Part 1)
MANILA, Philippines — Joshua Laxamana would have been 22 years old this year, and if he had his way, he would have pursued his passion and become a professional Defense of the Ancients (Dota) game player.
Those dreams came to a violent stop in 2018 when Joshua became one of the thousands of deaths in then-President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody drug war.
Now, with the reopening of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) probe into the drug war, hope has been reignited for the families of extrajudicial killing (EJK) victims.
Joshua’s family is one of those still holding out for justice.
Khristine Pascual, Joshua’s mother, works in a modest salon in Metro Manila. There, she told INQUIRER.net about her son’s story, and what the international probe would mean for her family, as well as other families of EJK victims.
This is part one of INQUIRER’s three-part series exploring the impact of the ICC probe on the families of drug war victims and revisiting their cases. The links to the two other parts are at the end of this article.
Joshua’s death strikes a similar chord as thousands of others, with the police saying that he fought back — “nanlaban.”
According to Khristine, the cases went from the Ombudsman all the way up to the Supreme Court. There was no room for appeals, said Khristine. It was all dismissed.
“It’s like they put a period at the end of paper saying, ‘It’s dismissed’,” she said in Filipino.
Khristine posed the question: How could they not go to the ICC?
“That is one of the things that gives us relief, the ICC. All of us mothers, that’s where we’re holding onto tight,” she said.
When the ICC probe was first suspended in November 2021, it was like justice also stopped for them, Khristine said. Fortunately for the victims’ families, the ICC opted to continue the probe in January 2023.
“We did everything we were supposed to do. This is our government. Whatever the protocol, whatever cases needed to be filed, whatever needed to be processed, we did that. But nothing happened,” Khristine said.
She asked the public for understanding as to why the families of EJK victims were relying on the ICC for justice.
She also thanked organizations, like Rise Up, that helped forward the case to court.
When asked what she thought about certain politicians who are defending the drug war and opposing the ICC probe, Khristine said that the ICC should be allowed to investigate as it would reveal if the perpetrators of the drug war were innocent.
But should the ICC grant the EJK victims a favorable sentence, Khristine said she would be relieved.
“Finally, you can tell your child that you saved them from that time they were suffering. As a mother, the suffering they made my child go through is no joke. We, their parents, feel like we’re being tortured by their suffering,” she said.
Children are often saddled with the duty of burying their mothers. It would be a tragedy if it were the other way around.
Khristine was forced to endure such tragedy.
She was used to her son going away for days at a time. So when he did not return to their Tarlac home in August 2018, she was not immediately alarmed. After five days, however, she alerted the police.
Barangay officials would later come to the salon she had been working in, together with some police officers. They brought with them a letter saying that Joshua was dead.
Screams filled the parlor, and Khristine refused to believe it right away, hoping that it was a mistake.
“Lord, not my child, please. Let this be a mistake,” she recalled thinking.
But at the police station, officials confirmed her fears. They claimed that Joshua possessed illegal drugs and a gun.
“He fought back, they said,” she said.
“The pain feels like it’s gaining a life of its own. Better if you just don’t eat all day. That can be solved. But to lose someone like this, even if you drown yourself in work, you wake up and you feel the same: How painful it is to have your child die when it is not their time,” she said.
Now, Khristine still thinks about how Joshua was tortured and how he got six gunshot wounds.
Khristine could also tell that Joshua’s two siblings could still feel the sadness from the loss of their brother. They were only 18 and 12 years old when Joshua was killed.
Whenever she would open the conversation about Joshua, she would just stop because she felt like something was off with them.
Even for Khristine, recalling what happened to Joshua made it feel like she only lost him yesterday. She asked for patience from him, as thinking about him every day would weaken her.
“It weakens the body. That is why sometimes you just don’t think about it,” she said.
Khristine believes that if Joshua were alive, he would be happy because he would be able to reach his dreams. She sees him playing in international leagues, with crowds applauding him. Her son would be able to buy the things he would want and help the people around him.
She could tell while raising him that Dota was his passion. Despite this, Joshua was able to retain passing grades, said Khristine proudly.
Joshua would even do “Penitensya,” a Lenten tradition of penitence. Khristine believed that her son feared God and could not have done the things he was accused of.
“I love you so much, Joshua. This is your mother, burying herself in work. I feel like I no longer want to take breaks so that when I sleep, it would be deep. I’m fighting for him. It just so happens that we are poor. So it’s hard to ask for help. So I hope that wherever he is, he will be happy there. He wasn’t able to pursue his dreams here. Maybe above, that’s where he will continue to pursue it,” Khristine said.