Relative of drug war victims: ‘We are here trying to survive’

Aie Balagtas See
Relative of drug war victims: ‘We are here trying to survive’ Mary Anne Domingo, whose husband and son were killed during former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, grills meat to sell to visitors on All Saints’ Day at the La Loma cemetery in Manila, Nov. 1, 2022.
Aie Balagtas See/BenarNews

Mary Anne Domingo, whose husband and son were killed in the Philippine drug war, said she intended to make a statement as she sold skewers of grilled food to people honoring saints or dead loved ones at a cemetery here.

Domingo and others who manned a coffee and food tent near a police outpost at the La Loma cemetery sought to remind officers and the general public that they are living victims of the drug war waged by former President Rodrigo Duterte.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, thousands of Filipinos visited cemeteries in Manila and across the mostly Catholic nation to mark All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, respectively.

“By being here, I would like them to know that we are humans, too. We have dreams just like them. We are still here fighting, and we are here trying to survive,” Domingo told BenarNews.

Domingo said she had been dreaming for years of selling merchandise at the cemetery, but lacked the capital.

This year, with help from the Diocese of Caloocan and the Silingan Coffee Shop, a cafe devoted to drug war victims, Domingo set up a grill in a tent close to the police.

The coffee shop, located in Quezon City, employs families of drug war victims. The shop is a place where customers hear stories from those left behind. 

Domingo said she had imagined having police for customers so she could share the feelings of injustice that she and others have suffered. Because of the influx of people, she had little time to speak to customers, who, perhaps, might have included the audience of her dreams.

ph cemetery mid.jpg
Grace Garganta, whose brother and father were killed in the Philippine drug war, shows a family photo as she takes a break while working as a barista at the Silingan Coffee Shop stand at the La Loma cemetery, Nov. 1, 2022. [Aie Balagtas See/BenarNews]

A few meters away, Emily Soriano could only watch from her stall where she sold candles and flowers.

Soriano said she wished she could join mourners to pay respect to her loved one, but money was scarce. Faced with feeding five children, she also must work to earn enough to renew the annual lease on a cemetery niche housing the body of her son, Angelito.

In the Philippines, leases on graves and above-ground niches are renewed annually after the original five-year lease expires. Those who fail to pay can see the remains of their loved ones removed from the cemetery.

“I visited him last week and apologized because I couldn’t be with him on this day,” Soriano told BenarNews as she choked back tears.

Angelito, 15, was killed on Dec. 28, 2016, in what was known as the “Caloocan massacre.” He would have been 21 this year had he not been attacked for allegedly going to a drug den. Six others were killed alongside him, most of them teenagers like Angelito. 

All were gunned down in the Duterte administration’s war on drugs that killed about 8,000 alleged addicts and pushers, according to government statistics.

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The Silingan Coffee Shop in the Cubao district in Quezon City, Metro Manila, features written tributes to those killed in former President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, Feb. 26, 2022. [Jojo Riñoza/BenarNews]

Just days before the vote to elect his successor earlier this year, Duterte said he might have underestimated the extent of the nation’s drug problem when he promised to end the scourge soon after taking office in 2016.

“I said I can clean it in six months. Then after that, I realized that I had made a mistake. Maybe it’s hubris,” Duterte said in April 2022.

Human rights advocacy groups have cast doubt on the accuracy of the government’s statistics, and say that as many as 20,000 to 30,000 could have been killed, when accounting for attacks committed by vigilantes.

Prosecutors from the International Criminal Court have been petitioning to carry out an investigation here, but Duterte’s successor, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., has denied them access. 


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