Helping ‘tokhang’ families
Perhaps one of the most outspoken prelates against the Duterte administration’s antidrug program, which has been marked by extrajudicial killings targeting mainly the poor, has been Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Caloocan. Bishop “Ambo” heads a diocese that has been described as “ground zero” of Oplan Tokhang, the police antidrug operation that supposedly involves “knocking” on the doors of suspected drug users and pushers, but which more often than not results in the killing of suspects and of so-called “collateral damage.”
Because he speaks out often and heatedly against such an inhumane policy, it’s no wonder that Bishop Ambo has become the focus of President Duterte’s ire. Most recently, the President accused a certain “Bishop David” of receiving donations of fruits and foodstuff that he uses for his personal needs, and then escalating the charges to saying that the bishop was into drugs. To which Bishop Ambo replied that if he is indeed the bishop being referred to, the only supplements he takes are “vitamins with fruit shake blended with malunggay….” “You might want to try it, sir,” the bishop added. “It will do you a lot of good.”
The exchange may be amusing (though with a menacing undertone), but there is nothing frivolous about Bishop Ambo’s and the Diocese of Caloocan’s efforts to mitigate the impact of extrajudicial killings and turn the humanitarian emergency into a more humane and Christian approach to the drug “menace.”
In a talk on “The Church and Tokhang” as part of the Ateneo alternative learning program last month, Bishop Ambo shared with the audience “Twelve Points to Follow to Empower Families of EJK Victims.”
First is to “give them space to grieve and let them feel the support of the community.” Most of the poor, among them the majority of EJK families, said the bishop, belong to the “unchurched,” folks who for many reasons hardly set foot in a church and don’t have the
money to pay for baptisms, weddings or funerals. They are, said Bishop Ambo, to be found on the edges of society and of the church, “sa laylayan ng lipunan, at laylayan ng simbahan.”
Second, “if possible, save them from further victimization,” including being exploited by hospitals, doctors and medicolegal personnel, as well as greedy funeral parlors.
Third, “allow them to give their loved ones a name and a face.” Too often, EJK families can’t even afford to retrieve the bodies of the victims, and so “respecting their names” is one way of easing the grievous loss.
Fourth, “give them the opportunity to tell the stories of their loved ones.” Make the family feel their lives mattered.
Fifth, “help them avail of the services of a counselor or mental health professional.”
“Introduce them to support groups for widows and orphans,” urged Bishop Ambo. Then, educate and empower them on their rights as citizens and human beings.
The eighth point is most important: “Help them find access to free legal services,” and prepare them to deal with, among others, “predatory hospitals” who use the circumstances to “bully the poor” and extract as much as they can from them who have little to begin with.
Ninth, “help them have their experiences documented and prepare a proper statement” in case of any legal action. Then, “get them involved in cause-oriented groups.” In the case of those who decide to pursue a legal claim against perpetrators, “help them find sanctuary” against possible threats.
Lastly, said Bishop Ambo, “help them move on with their lives.” Easier said than done, true, but worth trying.
Dr. Lourdes “Honey” Arellano Carandang, in a recent celebration of her birthday and the founding of the MLAC Center, said that in her work as a counselor for families of EJK victims, grief processing begins with what she calls “deep listening.” And in giving them space to speak, to act, or NOT to speak and act, Carandang said she sees the families move from grief and resentment to acceptance, resolve and action. The title of her talk was apropos — truly it is a way toward “restoring kindness and dignity in a harsh and violent world.”