Last week, Papal nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown met with orphans and widows of drug war (tokhang) victims at the St. Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center in Manila. During his visit, he listened to testimonies of eight individuals whose spouse or parent had been killed in the notorious drug war. The eight are just some of those who are undergoing theater therapy offered by the center.
“I am deeply sorry for everything that you have to go through,” Archbishop Brown said after hearing their stories. The nuncio was deeply moved by what they shared that he promised he would be sharing his experiences at the center to Pope Francis himself. (Read: Bishop Welcomes ICC Probe Into Duterte’s War on Drugs)
“I assure you that Pope Francis is close to you. In fact, I would be going to see Pope Francis in October and I promise you I will tell him about this experience in person,” he said.
The theater therapy these individuals are undergoing is part of the ‘Paghilom‘ program of the Kalinga Center. The program was founded in 2016 by SVD missionary Fr. Flavie Villanueva, as the Kalinga Center was opened in 2015 by the Society of Divine Word (SVD) congregation in Tayuman to provide services to the homeless.
And after seeing the bloody war on drugs that had been happening that year, the center decided to establish Paghilom, which means ‘healing’ in English, for the families of drug war victims.
The center offers five services to these families: food, psycho-spiritual intervention, legal assistance, educational assistance, and livelihood assistance. (Read: 3 Things You Need to Know About the ICC Drug War Investigation)
“[The program] is really a true gift from God for many families who are suffering the effects of this terrible violence,” said Archbishop Brown. He added that this kind of program is close to Pope Francis’s heart, as the pope “wants us to take care of the marginalized and the people who are in the periphery, people who are poor and overlooked.”
Philippines’ Drug War
The Philippines has become a hotspot for extrajudicial killings (EJKs) ever since the Duterte administration launched Oplan Tokhang which aimed to bring down drug users, pushers, and syndicates.
Government statistics say that 5,903 individuals have been killed from July 1, 2016, until September 30, 2020, due to the ongoing war on drugs. However, this number is being disputed by many, including the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who puts the numbers to almost 8,700 victims.
And the Philippines’s own Commission on Human Rights says that the actuals number could possibly be thrice as much as currently projected numbers.