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A courageous Filipino in the drug war

A courageous Filipino in the drug war

When the first drug war killing happened in the community where she lives, she was not so bothered or affected. She even felt a twinge of hope that the people who were into illegal drugs would learn their lesson, be afraid for themselves, and give up their vice.

Sister Ma. Juanita “Nenet” Daño lives in San Andres Bukid, which is the second most thickly populated district in Manila after Tondo. The people in the area are desperately poor, and many of the shanties are too small to even be called homes.

Before the advent of the Duterte administration’s antidrug campaign, trade in illegal drugs was rampant in the community. No single barangay in the area was free of illegal drugs, Sister Nenet recalls.

Two months into the implementation of “Oplan Tokhang,” Sister Nenet became very disturbed because the killings were now happening every week. She started asking the question: “Is killing the only solution to solve the problem of illegal drugs?”

Sister Nenet is a member of the Religious of the Good Shepherd (RGS), a congregation of 172 nuns stationed in the Philippines. She spent eight years as a missionary in Senegal, a country in Africa where she became fluent in French. After returning to the Philippines in 2011, she started religious and social work among the poor families in San Andres Bukid. She trained a group of 20 women residing in the area to become RGS mission partners by assisting her in her work.

When the frequency of the killings outraged Sister Nenet, she was impelled to enlarge her apostolate work. Together with her mission partners, Sister Nenet started going to the wakes of the victims, offering prayers and helping arrange the funerals.

They found out details of the killings that were otherwise not reported when they interviewed the victims’ kin. Among many other horrific stories, they learned of victims who were sleeping when fatally shot; who showed no guns or drugs when stripped naked, but who were still killed; who were eating at a lugawan when shot, apparently victims of mistaken identity; who were taking a bath when gunned down, or killed as “palit-ulo” because the real target could not be located.

They learned of masked vigilantes uncovered as policemen; of fabricated documents stating that guns and ammunition were seized from victims, hours before the buy-bust and killings; and of a police letter directing the transmittal of a cadaver to an “authorized funeral parlor” that charges exorbitant fees.

Sister Nenet and the mission partners underwent paralegal training, enabling them to record the details of each killing with charts, written eyewitness testimonies, and an inventory of evidence. These were all compiled and submitted to the Supreme Court as part of a class suit filed by the Center for International Law to seek protection for San Andres Bukid residents.

Sister Nenet also meets with drug users and helps them undergo counseling. She and her lay partners minister to “drug users who are not yet badly addicted by giving them activated carbon capsules meant to help clean their systems.”

In her written Supreme Court testimony, Sister Nenet was asked why she persists in her mission in San Andres Bukid. She answered: “Have you been to a crime scene? Have you heard the cry of someone who lost a father, a brother, a grandfather because of illegal drugs? Have you seen children helplessly crying and trembling because they experienced being dragged and forced to ride a police car? Or because they witnessed their mothers being forcibly separated from them as ‘palit-ulo,’ or because policemen planted evidence as a way of trapping drug personalities?

“I have been witnessing these since August 2016. Like the bereaved, I also cry for justice. I, together with our mission partners and other stakeholders, must continue our mission. Our motto is to never give up on our brothers and sisters who are drug dependents.”

After the Supreme Court case was filed, there has been no killing reported in San Andres Bukid, and police drug operations have reverted to the arrests of drug suspects.

Ma. Juanita Daño is a courageous exemplar of the Filipino race.

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