Thus cooed Peter John “PJ” Cofino, all of 11 months old, as he patted the glass panel of his father’s coffin. Those were the only words he could speak yet, and he was saying them to the man lying under the glass, Sgt. Jobert Cofino, one of 13 Marines killed in action on June 9 in Marawi City.
PJ’s father made regular calls, often video calls, to him, his mother Pronielyn told Inquirer reporter Julie Alipala in Zamboanga City. The baby knew his father’s face, and knew what to call him. “Papa, papa.” But Sergeant Cofino, dead at 28, never got to celebrate what would have been his first Father’s Day.
Another Marine, Pfc. Gener Tinangag, was to marry his fiancée and witness the baptism of their 2-year-old Clark Mayner next year. He was killed by a Maute sniper’s bullet after pulling a wounded comrade to safety on the same day.
Family being central to life in these parts, Filipinos have come to make a big fuss about Father’s Day, which is marked by most countries on the planet on the third Sunday of June. Understandably, a family gets particularly emotional when the father is away toiling in another country to make a proper living for the ones left behind. That said, think of the emotion unleashed by young fathers pulled so suddenly and tragically from their families for good by the fighting in Marawi.
Some are forced to endure more pain than most, such as the family members of Insp. Edwin Placido, 48, who have called on President Duterte to help them find his body. The Placidos received a memo informing them of his death, and also stating that the body had not been recovered. “I hope the death of my father and many others would not be in vain. I’m hoping for peace not only in Mindanao but for the entire country,” Ariane Placido said. “Although we are mourning for his loss, we are very proud of [him] … because he died a hero.”
Spare a thought, too, for the fathers missing in Marawi, or already lost in this extended period of fighting. Omalia Baunto, while sheltered along with many others in a secure government building, is waiting in anguish for word on her husband Nixon. The Bauntos were visiting family in a nearby town when the violence erupted. Omalia stayed in relative safety but Nixon returned to the city to check on their home and now remains trapped there. He had managed to call her only twice since the fighting began on May 23. “He told me that he was with four other men who were wounded. They were moving from house to house,” Omalia said. “I have not lost all hope and in my heart I believe he will return. He hasn’t eaten. He hasn’t slept. A bomb here, an explosion there. He is getting weak.”
Spare a thought as well for the fathers felled in the paroxysms of the war on drugs, all but forgotten by the public but mourned still. Fr. Gilbert Billena, parish priest of San Isidro Labrador in Barangay Bagong Silangan, Quezon City, recalled the stories told by children whose fathers were gunned down in front of their very eyes. The grief and misery haunt those left behind, who now have to fend for themselves. Said
Billena: “It’s so sad, my brothers and sisters, but in Quezon City I bless the body of their dead almost every week. And they all cry out: ‘Why? Why did they kill my father or my son without giving them a chance?’”
And then there’s “Sally Antonio,” described in an Agence France-Presse report as a “typical drug war widow” whose son—the family breadwinner—and husband were killed during a police raid. “When they killed my husband and son, they also killed me,” Antonio said. She now has to work three jobs to
sustain five other children and one grandson. “I’m angry. Why did they have to kill my husband and son and leave families like ours to sacrifice?”
On this day of joy and grief, of many faces and fates, let’s take a moment to reflect on the fathers unable to be with their families, and the families who can never be with their fathers again. Enjoy the opportunity to break bread or shoot the breeze with your Tatay, Papa, or Dad. Be grateful. Others are not as fortunate.
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