Drug war toll: A mother’s story of ‘dead’ Christmas
Every Christmas, Nanette Castillo, 49, decorates her tiny home in Holy Cross in Novaliches, Quezon City with lights and lanterns to feel the holiday spirit. She buys inexpensive gifts for her two children and several grandchildren, and cooks a variety of dishes for her family to feast on during noche buena.
But for this year, there are no lights and lanterns to light up Castillo’s home.
Aldrin – the eldest and only son of Castillo – was shot dead close to midnight last October 2 along the busy Herbosa Street in Tondo, Manila. He was about to cross the road to buy brandy to drink with his friends when seven masked men on motorcycles cut him off, and shot him, hitting his left cheek twice, and neck once.
Aldrin fell down on his face as his blood dripped down the pavement. And as if the three bullets lodged in his head were not enough, one of the masked men walked towards him, turned him over, and shot him twice in the chest. The suspects then immediately fled the scene, as if nothing happened.
Two months have passed but Castillo remained furious and indignant over the fate of her son as if it only happened yesterday. So many questions linger in her mind – “What had he done wrong? Who killed him? Why did they kill him?”
But answers to all these questions seem impossible to find, as Castillo also struggle to find possible reasons to celebrate Christmas.
“Wala akong Pasko ngayon, kahit yung anak kong babae,” Castillo said in an interview with INQUIRER.net on December 20
(I have no Christmas this year, even my daughter.)
“Kaso lang nga, may apo ako. Bata ‘yun e, para sa kanila ‘yung Pasko. Hindi ko naman pipigilang magsaya ‘yung mga bata,” Castillo also said, shaking her head as she held a laminated photo of Aldrin.
(But I have grandkids. They’re children—Christmas is for them. I will not prevent them from celebrating.)
“Pero ‘yung sa ‘min? Wala kaming Pasko, kahit ‘yung mother ko. Kasi kahit na matagal na o bago pa lang [na nangyari], hindi katanggap-tanggap ‘yung pagkamatay ng anak ko,” she added.
(But for us? We have no Christmas, even my mother. Time may pass, but I could never accept my son’s death.)
Questions with no answers
Aldrin was a drug user before, Castillo admitted, but he had already kicked the habit long before he was killed.
Castillo also said his son was not in the drug watchlist in Tondo or in Novaliches, as he had a clean record and had no enemies, who could have the motive to murder him.
“Di naman siya salot sa lipunan katulad ng sinasabi ng gobyerno na to. Wala naman siyang pinerwisyong iba. Bakit nila binaril? Gusto ko magkaroon ng sagot ang tanong ko at kung sinu-sino yang mga h******** na yan,” she said.
(He was not one of the ills of the society like what this government says. He did not wrong anyone. Why did they gun him down? I want answers to my questions and I want to know who killed my son.)
Aldrin had kept himself busy working as a welder. Days before he died, he was asked by his sister to come over to her Tondo house to install an air conditioner, Castillo said.
He was supposed to go home to Novaliches and leave Tondo earlier but he got the flu so he stayed longer, Castillo narrated. And because the neighborhood used to be their home for decades, she was sure he was safe and did not think of anything unusual.
But then the unthinkable happened. Castillo, out of despair, then blamed her daughter for her son’s death. If he was not there in Tondo, she thought, he would still be alive.
“Pati yung anak kong babae sinisi ko, ‘Kasi bakit mo pinapunta kasi kuya mo? Dapat hindi nabaril ‘yan.’ Nagkaroon pa kami ng gap sa family,” Castillo lamented.
(I even blamed my daughter, telling her ‘He could not have had been killed if you did not ask him to come over.’ It created gap in our family.)
Strength to pursue justice
Castillo smiled as she sat down the long bench across the table in a cafe in Quezon City where the interview was held. She said she wanted to go to Tutuban night market in Divisoria, Manila to buy cheap stuff for Christmas. Normita, a mother who also lost her 25-year-old son to the government’s anti-illegal drug campaign, told her that it would be hard to shop because of the sheer number of people in the market.
Castillo laughed and told her: “Kinaya ko nga nung namatay ang anak ko, ano ba naman ‘yung pagpunta sa Tutuban.”
(I got through my son’s death, what is that compared to shopping in Tutuban.)
Today, Castillo keeps herself busy by volunteering for Rise Up for Life and for Rights, a Church-based non-profit group supporting and organizing the victims of extrajudicial killings (EJK) and their families. She helps in conducting house-to-house visits and talking to the families, scheduling meetings, and doing other things she can do for the organization.
She got in touch with the group during the “Start the Healing” rally in Edsa on November 5 in search for answers over what happened to her son.
“Nu’ng sumali ako sa Rise Up, nabuksan ang isip ko. Dati simpleng nanay lang ako. Ang sa akin, bahala kayo diyan, basta safe ang anak ko… hanggang sa nangyari sa akin ‘to,” Castillo told INQUIRER.net.
(Joining Rise Up opened my mind. Before, I was just a simple mother who does not care about everyone else as long as my children are safe. Until this happened to me.)
“Pasalamat kami may natakbuhan kami na ganito, dahil kung hindi, ‘di namin alam gagawin namin, pare-pareho kaming walang alam sa batas eh,” she added.
(We’re thankful there’s an organization like this where we can run to. Because if not, we do not know what to do because all of us have no knowledge about the law.)
Her new life as an advocate against the killings greatly helped her in coping with the loss, helping her process the trauma and the pain by meeting other families who share the same experience as her.
“Walang ibang higit na makakaintindi sa amin kundi kami ‘ring mga nawalan,” she said.
(No one could ever understand us more but us who also those who have lost.)
Castillo still waits for the day that she and her daughter patch things up. And on Christmas Day, she will light a candle at her son’s tomb at the Manila North Cemetery to pray not just for her peace of mind, but also for justice to prevail over the death of her son, Aldrin, and of thousands of others who have fallen victims to the government’s deadly crackdown against illegal drugs. /kga
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