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To a boy who lost a father to the drug war

Resorting to violence is not the path away from desolation and despair

To a boy who lost a father to the drug war

A woman cradles her partner, a suspected drug dealer, who was shot by unidentified gunmen in the middle of a Manila street. (Photo by Vincent Go)

Reuben James Barrete, Manila
Philippines

March 14, 2017

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It was a rainy evening in Manila but a young boy was still roaming a busy avenue in the Philippine capital begging for food or spare change. 

"Older brother, can I have money for food?" he said upon seeing me.

"I have no money with me," I answered. "Where is your mother? She must be looking for you."

"There is no food at home," the young boy answered.

"How about your father?" I asked.

"He is gone. He was taken by the police."

It is not unusual anymore these days in the Philippines for people to be taken by the police, if not shot by some vigilante, for mere suspicion of being a drug user or dealer.

Many of the almost 8,000 people killed since July 2016 came from urban poor communities around the national capital.

To the boy I spoke with, I wanted to tell him that night, if only I could have explained it simply to you, that none of the sins of your parents is for you to bear.

Whatever you experience now is not your fault. You too, have become a victim of the inequality that reigns in our country.

I want you to know that whatever choice your father made, he should have been given due process, not killed.

I was stunned when you told me that you lost your father without any hint of anguish. I did not feel the pain in you, but rather acceptance. 

I would understand if you were told many times that your father was evil, that he committed a mistake that could have turned him into a monster. 

In the eyes of society, your father might be a monster capable of violence. But I wanted to tell you that these people who looked the other way as your father was killed are the ones who are sowing violence.

I wanted to tell you there, and more. 

If only I could not plant a seed of anger and retribution in you but help you realize that the bullets in your father's body will never justify the promised "change" that many in our land believed in.

I wanted you to know that the "change" people say has come to the Philippines is not the "change" that we want.

Someday, when you realize how painful it is to grow up without a father, I wish that you will believe that justice favors no one, and that we must all tirelessly seek it.

I wanted to tell you that no matter what, violence is not the way out of desolation and despair, that there is change in hope, not in fear.

Reuben James Barrete is a development worker in Manila whose focus is human rights, poverty solutions, and social protection. He is taking up a Masters degree in International Studies at the University of the Philippines.

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