The Challenge To Rise Up

Families of EJK victims, such as those from San Isidro Labrador Parish in Bagong Silangan, QC are left with the struggle of survival beginning with financing the burial needs of the deceased. Thankfully, the Parish has opened its doors for them.
(Photo grab from Fr. Billena’s FB Page)

Ateneo Law School Professor Dean Mel Sta. Maria, during one of his lectures in the Persons and Family Law, likened the Philippines’ current situation to that of “Genocide” as an estimated 7,000 deaths have been recorded and reported in relation to extrajudicial killings (EJK) as of March 2017.

In the Diocese of Novaliches alone, the poorest of the poor has a substantially greater number of death tolls than those in gated communities. San Isidro Labrador Parish Priest Rev. Fr. Gilbert Billena, OCarm gave testimony to the plight of the merciless killing of these poor people involved or suspected to be involved in drugs.

Interviewed on the situation, he narrated how there were more than 25 people killed in cold blood around his parish ever since President Duterte’s War on Drugs campaign began through Operation Tokhang. Some of his parishioners were even killed just outside the window of the Church on the opposite side of the road.

For Fr. Billena, these extrajudicial killings should be condemned because the war on drugs must be fought with the preservation of the dignity of life through faith in the possible conversion of drug recoverers. Increasing the budget for reformations and institutions of rehabilitation centers and by addressing poverty and unemployment were other solutions he cited.

Children left behind by EJK Victims under the San Isidro Labrador Parish are provided their daily sustenance aside from the therapy they need to overcome the trauma of witnessing first-hand the death of their parents. One of the therapies given the children is through coloring activities.
(Photo grab from Fr. Billena’s FB Page.)

More Than Just Statistics

In EJK, the effect of the death of a family member submerges the poverty-stricken surviving members into funeral debts, survival challenges, trauma, and woundedness.

Christ The King Parish, Filinvest 2 Guest Priest Rev. Fr. Arnulfo Alindayu, OCarm, whose own nephew was a recent victim of this violence, gave his observation on the “chilling effect” of this extrajudicial killing.

As a priest, he often said a funeral mass for the victims and noted how outraged the people were with the immense violence. He added that the children, mostly below 13 years of age, left by the victims are faced to survive through childhood with a violent and traumatizing experience of a first-hand witness of the murder of their parents.

He cited that “the people were also angry at the Church for being silent” out of so much fear and misery for somebody to protect them who are mostly on their own, wounded, full of hatred, animosity, and distrust.

“Violence only begets violence and that the victims of crimes, may not want the death of the offenders but their transformation,” he concluded.

His Excellency, The Most Rev. Antonio R. Tobias, D.D. during his visit to the San Isidro Labrador Parish two years ago.
(Photo grab from San Isidro Labrador Parish FB Page)

The Bishop Breaks The Silence

Meanwhile, Bishop of Novaliches Antonio Tobias, D.D. denies allegations posed against the Church and instead affirms its stand against EJK.

“You cannot say that the Church is not doing anything,” he said, “We rehabilitate.”

He emphasized that we are not supposed to kill people because “they can go to a level of the human spirit” that desperately wants to change into a better person.

He said that spirituality is a very important component in the desire to change, such that “when you have taken that away, you have taken out a certain portion of the cure.”

In addition to the Community-Based Rehabilitation Program of the Diocese of Novaliches launched last September 2016, comes Rise Up as proof of the Church’s action to address the issue of EJK through the initiative of Fr. Billena and heads of other religions.

Acupuncture is a program of Rise Up given to a Nagbabalik-loob to address their anxiety, depression, and problems in illegal drugs.
(Photo grab from Fr. Billena’s FB Page.)

Time To Really Be Like Jesus

Rise Up is an ecumenical organization comprised of people “in defense of life and protection of human rights against drug related extrajudicial killing”. With Fr. Billena as one of its convenors, he has for the past months been implementing Rise Up’s program on rehabilitation and refuge for drug surrenderees whom they call, “Nagbabalik-loob”. This is on top of his parish’s own livelihood program specially created for them.

Aware of the risk of being hunted down by securing the safety of drug surrenders and recoverers, Fr. Gilbert said that, “We have to risk, or else many will die. Many have died already, but we have to extend our effort than just to witness these carnage around us without doing nothing.”

He said that it is a priest’s prophetic role “to really be like Jesus in the Gospel”.

“Go with the sinners, find them and give them hope. And give them life. Give them chance. Yan naman ang pinunta niya sa atin,” he emphasized. (That is why Jesus came here.)

Tok-hang comes from a Visayan word “Tok-tok Hangyo,” which meant knock. Operation Tokhang is a program of the government where the police knock on the doors of the alleged drug users and/or pushers and ask them to surrender for monitoring.

However, much to the surprise and misery of everybody, Operation Tokhang, developed into what the people now call as Operation Tokbang, where the accused are not just anymore being asked to surrender with a knock but instead are killed with a “bang, bang” from either the police or the vigilante. This is what Fr. Gilbert and members or Rise Up movement vehemently oppose. (~Jyn Aragon, M.D.)

Fr. Gilbert Billena leads a crew in documenting the realities faced by drug surrenderers and EJK victims and their families.
(Photo grab from Fr. Billena’s FB Page)

Based on the Article, “A Knock On The Door: The Tales Of The Last Silent Cry”, by the same author published in Carmel News PH January 2017