MANILA – Thousands of people representing various political stripes and sectors joined the church-led “Heal Our Land” mobilization at EDSA on Sunday, with an appeal to an end to the killings of suspected criminal offenders, and raising the alarm that the impunity, if not addressed, would eventually de-sensitize humanity and corrode all respect for life.
Organizers of the mass action, which began with the celebration of Holy Mass at historic EDSA Shrine, followed by a procession from the shrine to the People Power Monument nearby, had earlier appealed to everyone to make the event a nonpartisan one, shunning placards and streamers. Many in the crowd brought candles as requested.
Sunday’s mobilization capped a nearly 7-week campaign by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, which had issued on Sept. 12 an eloquent plea to “stop the killings” as authorities and lawmakers investigated the successive deaths of minors whom police had tagged as crime suspects shot dead allegedly because they fought, or shot at, authorities.
But just hours before Sunday’s mobilization, a 14-year old boy in Taguig City was shot dead late Friday night by unidentified men.
14-year-old shot dead in Taguig
According to officials of Barangay Calzada, a friend had fetched victim Mark Angelo Estacio from their house.
As the two youths were walking, several men walked up behind Estacio and shot him repeatedly in the nape and head.
Mark Angelo reportedly had a record of petty thefts in their community, and his grandmother supposedly admitted he had used marijuana when he was just 9 years old, but that they had made him undergo rehabilitation.
His case was but the latest in a string of remorseless killings that drew deep concern from the CBCP, which called for a 40-day period of deep reflection from Christians, the tolling of church bells, and constant prayers for those who have been killed without mercy.
Young lives ‘snuffed out so cruelly’
Writing for the CBCP on Sept. 12, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Soc Villegas – who also celebrated the Sunday Mass at EDSA Shrine – had written: “Kian, Carl, Reynaldo…they were young boys, enjoying life, loving sons of parents who doted on them. Now an entire nation knows them by name because their lives have been snuffed out so cruelly, their dreams and aspirations forever consigned to the sad realm of “what could have been but never will be”.
“Kian, Carl and Reynaldo” are three schoolboys – Kian Lloyd delos Santos, Carl Angelo Arnaiz and Reynaldo de Guzman – believed to have been killed in cold blood by Caloocan police in separate incidents.
The CBCP’s Sept. 12 appeal had added: “They cannot be statistics, for to reduce them to numbers in an increasing tally is to heap yet more injustice than has already been visited on them. They are only three of so many, awfully many, who have paid the price of what is touted to be the country’s resolute drive against criminality!
“We mourn. The nation must beat its breast in a collective admission of guilt for in our silence and in our inaction, in our diffidence and in our hesitation lie our complicity in their deaths!”
Among the politicians at the “Heal Our Land” mobilization on Sunday was Sen. Bam Aquino, who said in an interview a stop to the killings was but a first step in the long quest for justice, as protests mount over the deaths of thousands – many believed to be victims of extrajudicial killings in the brutal war on drugs.
According to Aquino, he was interested to know from the continuing Senate hearings on EJKs whether or not there are indeed a number of lawmen who are “saying no” to orders for them to kill drug suspects, as some church leaders had claimed earlier.
In a statement, the Liberal Party said it was time for political groups to set aside differences and simply unite behind a common campaign to stop the killings and uphold human rights.
Aquino had earlier joined three co-members of the Senate minority in a statement of support for the “Lord Heal Our Land Sunday.”
In their joint statement, the four senators said they are praying “for enlightenment for our leaders that violence and bloodshed is not the way is not the way to address problematic drug use.”
“We hope the united prayers of the prelates and the faithful will stir the inner voice of our leaders and those who kill the helpless to stop wasting lives and mend their ways.”
For some of the faithful who joined the “Heal Our Land” mobilization, their presence was not just a protest against EJKs, but also part of their personal journey to healing.
– With reports from Bernard Testa and Jenny Dongon, News5-InterAksyon