Justice denied: What the ICC probe means to drug war victims’ families (Part 2)
MANILA, Philippines — Nanette Castillo treated her son Aldrin as a best friend, one that would advise her on what to wear and be her “kakampi” – ally – in their household.
But Nanette would lose her kakampi on Oct. 2, 2017. On that day, five masked men gunned down Aldrin, among the first of what would become thousands of extrajudicial killing (EJK) victims during the term of President Rodrigo Duterte.
When INQUIRER.net sat down with Nanette at the mobile coffee store Silingan Coffee —which is run by the families of drug war victims — she said that it was not her first time being exposed to the media.
A news agency had even immortalized the moment when she found her son lying on the street and she was checking his wrists for a pulse. It was a photo that summarized the drug war: mothers losing their sons for being suspected of being involved in illegal drugs.
The reopening of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) probe into the rampant drug war killings in the previous administration has sparked hope among those left behind by their loved ones.
This is the second of INQUIRER’s three-part series exploring the impact of the ICC probe on the families of drug war victims. Read the first part here: Justice delayed: What the ICC probe means to drug war victims’ families (Part 1)
Nanette’s quest for justice has been a long, five-year battle. By October 2023, it would be six years.
When the ICC probe was first suspended in 2021, Nanette was angry but not surprised.
Now that the probe has resumed, however, Philippine lawmakers are attempting to block it, including Pampanga 2nd District Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a former president.
READ: Ex-President Arroyo, other House legislators post ‘unequivocal defense’ of Duterte vs. ICC probe
Nanette spoke bluntly about legislators trying to protect Duterte.
“You are laughable — as if Duterte is so oppressed. He’s now looking for protection? From who? No one will touch him here in the Philippines,” she said in Filipino about the legislators.
According to Nanette, the ICC probe grants Duterte the right to due process — which her son was deprived of.
“You have due process,” Nanette said, this time addressing Duterte. “That due process that they did not give my son and other victims, we are giving it to them. That’s why I’m so angry at what they did. Those with us they killed right away.”
She appealed to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to let the ICC go on with its probe.
“Let the ICC come. This is one step to show that you want to change the old ways. This is just an investigation.)
She said that they will remain quiet if the ICC probe would absolve Duterte. At least at that point, Nanette and the families of other EJK victims would have an answer.
Politics and poverty
As a mother, she was already nervous when Duterte sat as president. At that point, bodies wrapped in plastic began turning up in the streets, with labels crudely written on cardboard declaring their alleged crimes.
Nanette admitted that she considered voting for Duterte in 2016, almost falling for the “macho effect” and his promises of ending criminality and the illegal labor practice “endo” — that is, end of contract. It was Aldrin that dissuaded her.
“If you vote for Duterte, the police will become shameless,” Aldrin told her.
A year later after saying those words to his mom, Aldrin would die as an EJK victim.
Nanette never thought it would happen to them. Her son did not even have a record with the Philippine National Police or the National Bureau of Investigation. He was not on the drug watch list.
According to her, she did not know anything about human rights before her son was killed.
“I was not like this before. I did not know anything about human rights. You know, the truth about the communities like, in impoverished places, we know nothing about our rights,” she said.
Aldrin’s last night
This was the time when Aldrin went to his sister’s home in Tondo to fix the air conditioning, said Nanette. Friends and relatives asked him out to drink. They were just talking when suddenly five masked men emerged on motorcycles.
“They made Alvin kneel on the street. His hands were behind his neck. They asked him his name. I don’ know if my son was able to answer. He was shot here,” Nanette, pointing at her left temple and then her cheek to show where the man shot her son was shot with a .45-caliber pistol.
When she saw her son lying on the street, she went to his side, even though police officers tried to stop her.
“Of course, I insisted since I was his mother. Maybe he was still alive. When I held him, on his chest, I checked if he was breathing. But he was already gone,” she said, shaking her head.
Aldrin’s eyes were open and his mouth was agape, said Nanette, which told her that he struggled to breathe in those last moments.
The image of her son kneeling at the mercy of the gunmen weighs heavy on Nanette. She still imagines how his last few moments were like — whether or not he had to beg for his life, or if he called out for her.
“I think of that. I was not there. I was not able to do anything. That’s why now I will do everything for him,” she said.
Even while mourning, their neighbors were afraid to stay late at the wake. Filipino wakes would typically go on well into the night, but for Aldrin, mourners were afraid to stay past 8 p.m.
“He’s already dead. You could not mourn properly because you’re thinking of so many things. The fear, the anger. Even for the safety of those at the wake, you have to think about it,” she said.
What could have been
Throughout the interview, Nanette held up Aldrin’s image, ensuring that the camera could see her son, as well as the words “Justice for Aldrin Castillo.”
“My Aldrin was my eldest. He was 32 years old when they killed him. He was a young man full of dreams,” she said.
According to Nanette, Aldrin was not able to finish college, but he finished a technical vocational course because he wanted to improve himself.
He became a professional welder. He had a live-in partner whom he planned to marry and with whom he eventually wanted to raise a family.
He was planning to go to Saudi Arabia to work. Aldrin told his mother that he would buy her the things she wanted and make her a “doña” so that their rich relatives would not make fun of them anymore.
Aldrin even had his teeth fixed as part of the medical requirements for working abroad. He was happy then, Nanette said.
Now, with her son’s dreams cut short, Nanette dreams of justice. She believes that if her son were alive he would be happy seeing her fighting for him.
“Though I was not able to fight for you when you were alive, I will fight for you now,” Nanette said.