Lack of money delays burial of couple mistaken for drug suspects
While most Filipinos spent All Saints’ Day visiting their departed loved ones in cemeteries, the families of a young couple slain by unidentified gunmen continue to grieve over their bodies in their own homes, unable to raise the money needed for a decent burial.
Around 11 p.m. on Oct. 25, two armed men on a motorcycle shot dead Jerico Camitan, 21 and his live-in partner Erica Fernandez, 17, on Gumamela Street in Barangay Commonwealth, Quezon City. A placard found on top of Camitan’s body read: “Tulak ka, hayop ka (You are a drug pusher, you animal).”
But no sachets of “shabu” (methamphetamine hydrochloride) or drug paraphernalia were found at the scene. Only his cell phone, cash amounting to less than P400 and a watch were retrieved from Jerico who works as a construction worker. From Erica, a Grade 8 student, the police recovered a bloodstained Barbie doll along with a Hello Kitty wristwatch and a blue wallet.
In a recent interview with the Inquirer, the families of Jerico and Erica denied the pair’s involvement in illegal drugs. This was backed up by the police who told them that the couple had tested negative for drugs and were not on any drug watch list. Although vindicated by the findings, adding to the families’ pain is the more difficult question of where they would get the money needed for funeral and burial services.
Rommel, Jerico’s father, told the Inquirer that it would cost over P60,000 to bury his youngest son. According to him, Light Funeral Services was charging him P46,000 for the autopsy and P12,000 for other services. On top of these, he needs to pay P5,000 for a niche at the Bagbag Public Cemetery.
“We are already very poor and they still make it so hard for us,” Rommel said, adding, “I just don’t understand.” On Nov. 3, he informed the Inquirer that the P60,000 had been lowered to P35,000, burial expenses included.
A widower, Rommel is a construction worker in San Mateo, Rizal province earning around P600 per day. He has not been to work since his son’s death as he has been busy attending to his son’s wake which is being held in a narrow alley next to their rented house.
Rommel stays up late every night to collect contributions from neighbors playing cards at his son’s wake. On the eve of All Saints’ Day, he managed to collect P1,000, a small fraction of what he needs to raise.
“Others have told me not to get my son’s body from the morgue anymore because of the expenses,” Rommel said. “But he is my son, my poor son.”
Erica’s family is in the same situation. In their small shanty, her coffin is adorned by her favorite stuffed toy, a violet teddy bear from Jerico, said her elder sister Janet. Their neighbors have lent them a florescent bulb for Erica’s wake since there is no power in their house.
With both of her parents jobless, Erika’s relatives are at a loss on where to get the money to bury her. The funeral home is charging them P71,000 but this was later lowered to P58,000.
“We were told by Light Funeral Services to wait until Nov. 9 so we can get burial assistance from the Office of the Vice Mayor,” said Janet, who noted that the city government gives as much as P25,000. “But it is still not enough and we don’t know where we will get the rest of the money,” she added.
“If they really were drug pushers, we should be rich by now. But we don’t even have money to buy rice,” Janet told the Inquirer.
Both families said the police was looking at the third party angle. Erica reportedly broke up with Jerico a few weeks earlier and was seeing someone else.
Autopsy reports showed that Jerico was shot five times while Erica sustained a gunshot wound in the neck.
Rommel said while the Duterte administration’s war on drugs had good intentions, “not everyone who gets killed is actually a drug user. My son was an unintended casualty.”
When they finally raise enough money, the couple’s parents plan to lay them to rest beside each other.
“They were together for 3 years and they were both good kids,” Janet said.
“The funeral home told me his body can keep for only two weeks, and I have to bury Jerico next week,” Rommel said. “I don’t know what I will do with my son’s body if I don’t raise the money for his burial. I don’t even want to think about it.”