In their frail but determined hands
The women—18 mothers and grandmothers—have had enough. They have seen their small community in the municipality of Pateros ripped apart and terrorized by the “bonnet gang”—motorcycle-riding men in ski masks roaming nightly and killing without compunction those suspected of having links to illegal drugs. The women have taken matters in their own frail but determined hands—and feet: Armed with nothing more than grit and flashlights, they walk the neighborhood at night to thwart would-be criminals, particularly the murderous bonnet gang. They provide a watchful and comforting presence in the streets once lorded over by marauding vigilantes.
According to reports, as many as 60 residents were gunned down within eight months in 2017 in Pateros (population: 63,000). With no arrests made, police were largely seen as helpless—or complicit.
Police themselves say they have killed 5,400 suspects in drug raids, although rights activists have cited much higher figures.
Bereaved families and rights groups have sought the investigation of what police routinely describe as “shoot-outs with drug gangs,” but authorities have largely dismissed the killings as the result of botched drug deals, turf wars between drug gangs, or informants being silenced.
Yet the women of Pateros did not surrender. Their patrol is a shining example of civilian initiative and community spirit that rises above adversity and thrives when leadership is wanting. Neither daunted by official inaction nor paralyzed by grief, they show how collective action can be an effective deterrent to the feeling of helplessness swamping many communities in the throes of drug-related killings.
The women’s determined action comes not from any sense of heroism. As mothers and grandmothers, they are witness to how families have been riven by the violent deaths of fathers and breadwinners. As society’s nurturers, they are aware of how sorrow and uncertainty can hobble children and steal their future, and how doing nothing can perpetuate a culture of silence and fear.
Thus did the women of Pateros walk their talk. It is the only choice they can live with.
Over at an informal settlers’ village in Quezon City, widows and mothers of suspects killed in the administration’s war on drugs chose to fight back as well. Instead of depending on doles and the wellspring of charity bound to run dry, the women of Barangay Lupang Pangako chose to put their grief to work with Project SOW (Support for Orphans and Widows).
The community initiative by the Ina ng Lupang Pangako Parish, Vincentian priests, pastoral workers, and various private groups and individuals aims to provide rehabilitation and livelihood for families of victims of extrajudicial killings (EJK).
According to the information gathered by the Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PhilRights), one in four EJK victims is a primary breadwinner. “Most are seasonal workers as well, with irregular and fluctuating incomes. Since most of those killed are already in abject poverty, their deaths have profoundly impacted the ability of the families left behind to meet their daily needs,” says PhilRights executive director Nymia Pimentel-Simbulan.
The funeral expenses, the stigma attached to the deaths, and the lack of earning opportunities for those who barely reached school can drive the families deeper into debt—and probably, eventually, into crime.
After a feasibility study in 2018, Project SOW formed a group made up of the widows and mothers of EJK victims. They were taught and guided in sewing specific products—a small-scale production that now has 14 sewing machines. Over a year on, 11 women are now earning P250 per day from sewing tissue holders, small bags, rugs, wallets, and pouches that are sold at a retail store in
Quezon City and during events for EJK victims across Metro Manila.
Project SOW also hosts psychosocial rehabilitation and healing sessions, including a family camp out of town organized by the women’s group Baigani, where the widows and mothers are able to process their grief and share their thoughts in a welcoming, comforting space.
Thus helped, along with a rekindled sense of community and belonging, the women can now provide for their families’ most basic needs with a regained sense of pride and dignity.
Yet the women of Pateros and Lupang Pangako need more than respect and commendation. Some concrete help—from local government units in terms of defense training, security escorts and wherewithal, as well as from the social welfare department and private companies for livelihood grants, psychosocial sessions, and food and school provisions for the kids—would definitely be welcome.
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