Wednesday, October 17, 2018
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At Large

Justice for ‘EJK’ victims, survivors

The fight for justice goes on for widows, mothers, daughters, sisters and other female relatives of “EJK” victims. Speaking out in focus group discussions hosted by Baigani, a women’s group composed of survivors of EJK victims and NGO women supportive of them, the women from Camarin in Caloocan, Payatas in Quezon City, and Balic-balic in Manila aired their lingering pain and voiced their demand for justice for their fallen men.

The three areas have been among the hardest hit by “tokhang” and antidrug killings in the Metro. Killings started immediately after President Duterte assumed power, they recalled, and while authorities should have gone after the “masterminds” behind the drug trade first, instead, “the poor, the ignorant, those without power have become the victims,” said one participant.

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They also decried the abuse of power and impunity directed at them. For instance, they said, families of EJK victims are charged exorbitant fees by morgues and funeral houses, many of them linked to police, with the amounts ranging from P50,000 to P75,000. Complicit in the killings, they said, were hospitals who often cite the deaths as due to “cardiac arrest or respiratory failure or pneumonia,” perhaps to “hide the real reason for the deaths of our husbands.”

Though they all want the courts or Congress to investigate the conduct of the antidrug operations and the effects on the survivor families, many of the community women are fearful. Said one: “Natatakot kami, baka kami balikan. Baka habang naglalakad ako ay basta na lang akong patayin. Paano na ang mga anak ako? (We are afraid, they might retaliate against us. Who knows, while I’m just strolling along, I might just be killed. What about my children?)” Families continue to live in fear, they said, especially when they hear of motorcycle riders (known as “riding-in-tandem”) nearby.

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The women are also unhappy with the government response to their plight, demanding livelihood assistance and scholarships for their children. “This is the least that government can do for the deaths of over 20,000 victims and the damage to their families,” said Baigani. “Local officials must act to secure communities from killers who roam about freely; this should be their priority,” the women added.

* * *

Standing on the corner of Leon Kilat Street and Sanciangko Street in the heart of Cebu’s business district is One Central Hotel. Though it caters mostly to a business clientele, it also serves as a halfway house for tourists on their way to or from other parts of Cebu, especially resorts like Maribago Bluewater or Sumilon Bluewater, partner establishments of Bluewater Hospitality which manages One Central.

For Steven Yu, One Central’s CEO, as much of a draw as the establishment’s location is its storied history. The hotel, he said, is just a few minutes away from iconic Cebu sites like the Santo Niño Shrine, Magellan’s Cross and the Cebu southern bus terminal. “It is the site of the beginnings of the flourishing of Cebu,” adds Yu, noting how, before World War II, the lot was the site of the province’s central train station. After the war, the Go clan built a lumberyard on the lot. With the changing times, the Gos decided to put up a “mixed-use” development, with the lower floors devoted to a mini mall and office spaces, while One Central can be found in the upper floors.

“We were looking for partners with the same values,” explains Yu, in choosing the Bluewater group to manage the hotel operations. Julie Alegrado Vergara of Bluewater explained that while the group is best known for its resorts, they really started out with small hotels in Mindanao. “It’s a good intermarriage,” observes Yu, who says the relationship “started out as friendship,” the two families being next-door neighbors.

One Central’s 157 rooms provide a sense of “amuma,” the Cebuano word for “care,” and the choice of interior designer James Jao testifies to this. He is known as a “green” architect, and made sure, he says, that the hotel will leave “a low carbon footprint,” from using farmed wood to patronizing Cebu-based suppliers of furniture and fixtures.

rdavid@inquirer.com.ph

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TAGS: At Large, drug killings, EJKs, extrajudicial killings, One Central Hotel, rina jimenez david, Steven Yu, war on drugs
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