As violence punctuates Manila life with increasing regularity, a fictionist takes stock of his hopes and fears as an artist and new husband
NAVOTAS CITY, PHILIPPINES – NOVEMBER 8: Police crime scene investigators process a crime scene where Jay-Ar Derder died in a street on November 8, 2016 in Navotas, north of Manila, Philippines. Mr. Derder, a construction worker, suspected of using drugs, were shot by police in an alleged shootout but family members and neighbors report that Jay-Ar was already in police custody hours before he got killed. (Photo by Jes Aznar/Getty Images)
Sometimes I wonder if I’ll live to see another day. A younger version of me would have romanticized this idea, dying young, an artist with a body of work and promise.
But today, there is no romanticizing that thought. I’m a newlywed. I want to live a long, happy life with my wife, to grow old, to keep working, to contribute to society. But in the dark days at the end of 2016, I fear for my life as I have never had to before.
Why should I fear for my life? Am I some kind of drug addict or criminal? No, but then neither was Lauren Rosales, whose corpse my wife (still fiancée then) and I drove by when we were heading to Makati City Hall for our wedding seminar. Seven in the morning, two blocks from City Hall, we didn’t hear the gunshots but we saw the crowds running in terror and we were just a car behind the jeepney that she died in. Her brother JR was no addict or criminal either, but he was shot dead in the street. And all the children who’ve been called collateral damage and necessary sacrifices, I’m pretty sure they didn’t feel like they had anything to fear on the days they died.
How many more of the 5,000 and counting believed they had nothing to fear? Did they even have time to process the threat to their lives? If a motorcycle rolled up in front of me, would I think he were after me? Or would I just feel the bullets drive into me? Or would I be shot in the head and it would all happen so fast I would not even have time to process it?
And what of those who are drug addicts and petty criminals? As far as I know, drug use isn’t a capital offense. Then again, I believe the drug problem is a public health concern, so I’m probably a minority thinker here or out of touch. We supposedly don’t have the death penalty (though there’s plenty of push to bring that thing back) and yet we have people being killed regularly in “police operations.”
One of my closest friends when I was a teenager was killed in the War on Drugs. People would ask, was he involved in drugs? I wanted to answer, should it matter? The War on Drugs and the way it is being waged is itself against the law, and therefore criminal. The news reports said that my friend pulled a gun and engaged in a shootout with the police. They only had police accounts because apart from the cops in the shootout, there were no witnesses. How do we know what really happened? When the president has encouraged killing, when he has talked about planting evidence, how is anyone safe?
I did not visit any of the ceremonies held for him after his death.
In the neighborhood where we grew up together, we were known as the rock n’ roll kids, the kids who would get up to crazy stuff. I wonder, were cops after him because someone in the neighborhood reported him as suspicious? Would I have been reported? I’ve moved from there, moved to a much nicer place in a different city, and here I feel generally safe. But I am afraid of going back to my old neighborhood, because I just don’t know. If I go back there, will I be on some list that I don’t even know about? If I had gone to the ceremonies, would there have been “intelligence officers” taking note of attendees?
If my name were on a list, would I ever know? Would I ever have a chance to defend myself? Or would I just get grabbed? Killed?
Read the full article in Rogue’s December 2016-January 2017 issue.