We heard a story like Kian delos Santos’ in 2016.
A year ago yesterday, Nonoy Daa, Jessie Cule, Rhaffy Gabo and Anthony Comendo were killed in a “tokhang” operation
by Quezon City policemen in Barangay Payatas. Efren Morillo, a fruit and vegetable vendor, was there, too, but he survived. He lived to tell the tale and chose to fight for justice.
It was a Sunday afternoon. Senior Inspector Emil Garcia, PO3 Allan Formilleza, PO1 James Aggarao and PO1 Melchor Navisaga went to Nonoy’s house where he and his four friends were relaxing and playing pool. The policemen, wearing plainclothes and carrying bayong that held their handguns, rounded up the men and bound their hands. They ransacked the house in search for “items.” Finding none, they led the five men to the back of the house and mocked and tortured them, beating them on those parts of their bodies covered by tattoos. Efren and his friends pleaded for mercy.
Efren was the first to be shot. Formilleza fired his gun at Efren’s chest, aiming for the heart. Efren fell, a burning sensation creeping from his chest to his whole body. He closed his eyes and prayed, in terrible pain but conscious. He heard his friends beg for their lives, and he heard gunshots fired in response. When he felt that the perpetrators were no longer near enough to see him, he talked to his friend Nonoy one last time, and asked for strength.
He crawled a few meters and slid down a ravine. He crossed a stream and trekked up and down a small hill to get to the highway. A jeepney driver took him to the Montalban Infirmary where he was given first aid. To his horror, he was then taken to the QC Police Department’s Station 6, where he waited for almost an hour before he was brought to the East Avenue Medical Center.
The bullet missed Efren’s vital organs by centimeters. He very narrowly escaped death. The scars he bears remind him of his ironic fate — that somehow he was still very lucky. Autopsy reports show that his friends were shot execution-style.
Kian delos Santos suffered an equally horrible fate last week.
According to eyewitness accounts, the Grade 11 student was dragged by policemen in plainclothes — as shown in CCTV footage — given a gun and told to run. He was then shot in the back and collapsed face down into the mud. No parent would want this to happen to their child. And no Filipino should accept this as our new reality.
The stories of Efren and Kian are unique, but common. Both are victims of “tokhang.” One involves a man who miraculously survived; the other involved a child who died in the most brutal way. The two events are a year apart, but both ask all of us the same question: What are we going to do about it?
Efren chose to stand up for himself, and this has brought some measure of justice. Last February, he and the kin of his four friends were able to secure a writ of amparo and protection order from the Supreme Court. The case is the first to be filed questioning the policy of “tokhang.”
Last March, Efren and the families of the other victims filed criminal and administrative charges against the policemen and their civilian companions at the Office of the Ombudsman, again the first of its kind.
Kian’s story should follow the same script. The pain and outrage caused by his death should translate to a collective demand for justice and accountability. Hopefully, this time Kian’s family will receive greater support from the Filipino public.
Efren’s resilience and courage let him live to fight another day. Hopefully, other Filipinos can find inspiration today from Efren and discover in themselves the courage to speak out and stand for those silenced and fallen, like Kian. Maybe we will as a nation rediscover our humanity.
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Gil Anthony Aquino, 27, is a fellow at the Center for International Law (CenterLaw) and is one of the lawyers of Efren Morillo and the families of his friends.