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Death comes for a child in Philippines' drug war killings

Sean Christian Martinez was only a Grade 8 student who wanted to be a soldier

Death comes for a child in Philippines' drug war killings

Agripino Martinez, father of slain 14-year-old Sean Christian, looks at the coffin of his son. (Photo by Kimberly dela Cruz)

Kimberly dela Cruz, Manila
Philippines

April 5, 2018

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On the eve of Palm Sunday, Agripino Martinez went to bed thinking that all his children were already asleep. He did not know that one of his sons went out in the middle of the night.

About midnight, Agripino woke up when he heard the repeated knocking on his door. Policemen had shot his 14-year-old son, Sean Christian, he was told.

Slowly, very slowly, Agripino drove his old jeep to the scene. While driving, the man's body was shaking. Another son was crying on the passenger seat.

At the scene of the shooting, the father had a hard time looking for his son. What he saw was a young boy wearing his son's clothes spread-eagled on the ground.

The policemen did not let Agripino near his son.

Sean Christian Martinez was a Grade 8 student at Paliparan Integrated High School in the province of Cavite, a few kilometers north of Manila.

His family and friends remembered him as a young boy who loved to dance and who wanted to be a soldier. They would say he was kind, friendly, and yet at times hard-headed.

Tall for his age, Sean Christian was easily mistaken for an adult.

According to the police, they flagged down a motorcycle with no registration plate late in the evening of March 25. 

Sean Christian was driving the motorcycle with a cousin, Gerard, on the back.

The police said Sean Christian alighted from the vehicle, pulled out a .45 caliber pistol, and shot at a police officer.

Authorities said the policemen were forced to retaliate and an exchange of gunfire ensued.

Sean Christian was shot eight times and died on the spot. Gerard, who is 15, was unharmed. Police said Gerard would be charged with "disobedience to persons in authority" and attempted murder.

Resie Martinez, Sean Christian's mother, said she was looking forward to going to church the next day, Palm Sunday.

In this predominantly Catholic country, Filipinos look forward to the day when they carry palm fronds for the priest to bless.

The fronds are later brought home and displayed in a strategic location in the house supposedly to prevent bad luck.

For Resie, this year's Palm Sunday was special because she was to take her six-month old baby to church for the first time since baptism.

When she was told about what happened to Sean Christian, she refused to believe it. She went to her son's room to check. Pillows were arranged on the bed to look as if someone was sleeping.

Then her husband came telling her that her son is gone. "He's gone, Ma," her oldest son confirmed.

Resie cried until morning. "Instead of going to church, we mourned," she said.

Sean Christian's name has been added to the long list of minors whose death have been linked to the government war against illegal drugs.

Father Gilbert Biilena, spokesman of the group Rise Up for Life and Rights, said it is ironic that Sean Christian was killed at the start of Holy Week when Christians ponder about their faith.

"We are a Catholic country but people are tolerating violence," said the priest. "This is opposite to what we believe that God gives life, and he's not a god of death," said Father Billena.

Earlier, Catholic bishops said they wanted the government's drug war to succeed, but condemned the killing of people "like chickens."

A year-end report from the presidential palace claimed that as of the end of 2017, the government's anti-illegal drug operations resulted in the arrest of 118,287 "drug personalities."

A total of 3,967 drug suspects were killed, according to the police, although human rights groups have claimed that about 12,000 suspected drug users and dealers have been killed.

At Sean Christian's wake, mourners played cards outside the family's small house. Inside, the young boy's casket was adorned with flowers. 

Agrapino was wearing a shirt that read, "Everything is Awesome." Resie busied herself tending to her baby. They both fondly recalled the goodness of their son.

The father admitted that he still cries, especially when he's alone. "It hurts. He was just a kid. I wouldn't even let a mosquito hurt him."

Every year, the Martinez clan usually gathers to welcome Easter. "It's always like a feast," said Resie, adding that everyone would be bringing food to share. 

This year, instead of celebrating the Resurrection, the family was preparing for a funeral. "We'll leave everything to God," said the mother.

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