Intramuros—Plaza Lawton—Plaza Miranda
14 December 2016
1:00 pm – 5:00 pm
IT IS OUR TURN AS URBAN POOR TO KNOCK ON YOUR DOOR!
We, leaders of urban poor organizations, together with our partners from civil society and the Church, express our deep concern regarding the ongoing bloody and deadly campaign of government against illegal drugs with disastrous effects on our communities. Although in principle we are not against efforts to eliminate drugs from our society, must these be done at the expense of the nation’s poor? Because of this war, many urban informal settler communities face a bleak Christmas. Wives and husbands have lost their partners for life. Children have lost their parents and parents their children. Neighborhoods are gripped by violence, fear, and fragmentation. Their pain and grief compel us to raise questions about the government’s self-proclaimed success in its “war on drugs”. We believe we must now speak out in behalf of the many who are suffering in our communities.
Each day for us begins with news about neighbors being shot dead—hunted down like animals following a “tokhang” knock on the door. Ironically, many of the victims were among the thousands who surrendered to the barangay and police officials, then returned home hoping that they would be given the chance to change. What did they get from the drug war instead? Death—all too often bound and gagged, a discarded body with an accusatory sign around the neck, dumped in a gutter and denied the last shred of dignity due the dead. Others were innocent victims, caught in the crossfire of invading police said to be eager to fulfill precinct quotas promising them cash rewards and promotions. As in any war, violence and vilification of the victims have become the means used and encouraged by this government to “solve” the drug menace. Violence has thus become the new normal.
Surely there are peaceful and humane ways to discourage poor people from taking desperate means to earn a living. Surely users should be considered not primarily as criminals but as victims who need effective rehabilitation programs to be able to contribute to society in more acceptable ways.
The surveillance activities and raids regularly conducted by police authorities in our communities occur any time of the day or night, culminating in arrests including juveniles. Contrary to claims that people feel safer now, we have never felt more worried and fearful about the fate of our loved ones. The sound of a gunshot scares us, something like the sudden bolt of thunder and lightning that still today terrifies our brothers and sisters in Tacloban. The sight of a neighbor drenched in his own blood brings indescribable traumas, especially in children, comparable to the effects of a tsunami. The culture of fear in our communities cripples our families. We have lost our right to a fair hearing. Are we being frightened so as to throw our unwilling support to the violent war that is destroying our communities?
Real peace and progress are never achieved by disregarding the rule of law and due process, by disrespecting basic human rights and dignity, and perpetuating pervasive fear.
Another disturbing observation, however, is the extent to which this campaign has eroded community ties. Instead of continuing to pursue our main goals such as decent housing in the city, livelihood opportunities, and basic services, we are distracted from those priorities by having to focus on the dangers of the drug war. These can come from invading police or masked individuals settling non-drug-related grudges vigilante style. Distrust, suspicion, and community fragmentation are wrecking the social cohesion that has always sustained our communities and enabled us to achieve collective aims. Many are afraid to reach out to neighbors in need and in distress, or to render help lest they be targeted as “drug coddlers.” Think again of the women and children who have lost their family breadwinner, elderly parents who are left without financial aid and caring support, and children who have had the horrifying experience of seeing a parent gunned down and discarded as garbage.
How can compassion for others thrive when suspicion, disunity, and despair reign? Yet, these are the results of the destruction wreaked by Oplan Tokhang. Can this nation be strong if bayanihan and pakikipagkapwa–tao, the values we cherish as Filipinos, are cavalierly set aside?
TO OUR PRESIDENT
Allow us to reiterate, President Duterte, that we are not against the desire of your administration to solve the drug problem. It is the lawless approach with no recourse for our victim-neighbors that so appalls us. We deplore the campaign’s systematic discrimination against the poor, its destruction of families and communities, and its creation of widows, orphans, and elderly victims. People targeted by the “war on drugs” need decent work, housing and secure tenure, food, potable water, improved health, and sanitation programs. Their children grow well in a safe environment with quality education and a hopeful future nurtured by an intact family.
Christmas is coming, Mr. President. Next time your police knock on our doors, can they bring us as your gifts, not violence but PEACE? Not fear, but HOPE? Not distrust and community fragmentation but COMPASSION and UNITY? We will keep knocking on your door, not vindictively like the Tokhang squads, but peacefully as Joseph and Mary did while searching for the birthplace of Jesus. Like the Holy Family, we hope that Malacañang will come to represent the peace, hope, compassion and unity that became His gifts to humanity. There lies the true spirit of a Filipino Christmas.
We have joined this Panunuluyan in solidarity with Joseph and Mary’s search for a safe place for the child and mother. That is also our hope as urban poor. Our participation reflects our commitment in faith to the message that Jesus proclaimed through his birth:
PEACE ON EARTH, GOOD WILL TO MEN
We interpret that as PEACE: “STOP THE KILLINGS, END THE VIOLENCE” inflicted on the urban poor, and GOOD WILL: “LISTEN TO US” as the vast majority of God-fearing citizens with rights, who are striving to make a better life for our families and communities.