The First Tokhang
On any given night in Pateros, in the town’s poorer areas, you might come upon small groups of women clad in identical t-shirts walking arm-in-arm around their neighborhoods. They’re part of the Pateros Women’s Patrol, and according to documentarist Ditsi Carolino who posted an account of their activities, the Women’s Patrol “is a volunteer group made up of mothers, housewives and even grandmothers.” Every night at 10 p.m., it was reported, “armed with only flashlights, they meet up and walk every block and alley in their barangay every two hours until 4 a.m. If they see someone breaking curfew or drinking, they remind them to stop and to go home. The group was originally formed in Sitio Pagkakaisa (Unity), a small community in Sta. Ana, which experienced spurts of drug-related killings beginning 2016.
Here is the women’s own account of why they embarked on these nightly patrols and their impact on their neighbors and neighboring communities:
“Merong dalawang namatay nung isang December. After mangyari iyon, nag-usap kami at nag-umpisa kami nung January. Sinubukan namin ng mga ilang linggo, tsaka namin iminungkahi kay Mayor yung ginagawa namin. Sabi ng iba, delikado daw yung ginagawa namin, hindi ba raw kami natatakot? Kaya yung mga babae nakaisip ng ganito, kasi hindi makatulog! Ninenerbyos! Yung mga bata, makakita lang na pumasok na naka motor at helmet sisigaw sila, ‘May bonnet, may bonnet!’ Simula noon, alas-siyete pa lang, halos ghost town dito. Kaya napagpasiya namin, palakasan ng loob, binuo namin yung grupo. Labing-anim kami. Civilian Volunteer Organization na kami. Dumami na kami, mga taga ibang lugar. Noon, labing-anim lang kami. Ngayon 300 plus na. Simula nung nag-ronda kami, wala nang nababalita na na-tokhang.”
(Two persons died last December. After [those killings] happened, we talked among ourselves and we began [patrolling] in January. We tried it out for some weeks, after which we told the Mayor about what we were doing. Some have said, what we’re doing is risky, aren’t we scared at all? But we women thought of doing this because we could no longer sleep! We’re all tense! If the children so much as see someone enter on a motorcycle and wearing a helmet they start shouting, ‘May bonnet, may bonnet [Someone’s wearing a bonnet]!’ Since then, as early as seven, this place is like a ghost town. That’s why we decided, with strong resolve, to form this group. There were 16 of us. We became a Civilian Volunteer Organization. We grew in number, including some from other places. Before, we were just 16. Now, there are more than 300 of us. Since we started doing our rounds, there hasn’t been any news of tokhang (summary killings).”
And so, it has come to this. Mothers leaving their families and homes in the dead of night, risking their lives, sheltering under the friendship and sisterhood of other women, and walking through their neighborhoods just to make sure no one is abruptly arrested, shot at or killed in the name of the war on drugs. Is there no end to this madness?You may not enjoy reading about tokhang on Christmas Day, after what for many of us must have been a night of feasting and merrymaking. But keep in mind that one of the key events surrounding the birth of Christ, the reason for our celebration, was an early version of tokhang — the First Tokhang, as it were.
Did not King Herod, informed by the Three Wise Men of the birth of the savior, order his soldiers to search far and wide for this Messiah and kill every boy born recently just to make sure?
Did not an angel appear before Saint Joseph to warn him of this threat, urging the new family to flee Bethlehem and seek safety and sanctuary in Egypt?
The Nativity story is not all sweetness and light. Beneath it lies a thread of danger and dread, of hardship and risk, of poverty and insecurity. We celebrate the season with cheer and cheering — forgetting the fear that Joseph and Mary had to overcome, and the risks their son faced in the first days of his earthly life. To celebrate Christmas properly then, we need a sense of compassion, for the little family in the manger in Bethlehem, and for all families today in our midst confronting the deadly realities of living under a madman.
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