Photo taken during the International Human Rights Day mob in Mendiola, Manila last Dec. 10.

Photo by Maegan Gaspar

Text by Jobelle Adan and Beatriz Zamora


In a kingdom where the iron fist reigns mighty above all men, the winds of an absent winter echo the mourning of the families of the slain.

Good tidings foregone in the aftermath of their loss, tradition binds them to celebrate the festivities they once found merry.

What they wish for, the world denies them.

“Sana wala pang Pasko,” the fallen man’s daughter prays. “Sana wala pang new year.”

December 25 would mark the first Christmas since the tragedy that has struck them. A chair sits empty on the eve of the 25th in honor of those they have lost while the man in Malacañan sits on his throne, fingers drenched in the blood of those he deemed unworthy of living.

“Kung mayroon lang sanang hustisya,” she hopes.

Wounded hearts

Tomorrow night, the yuletide lights will not shine in a distant corner in Butuan City.

“Masakit eh. Parang walang Pasko sa amin. Ang hirap tanggapin kasi,” says 29-year-old Jovie Mejorada.

The wounds of her loss are fresh. Mejorada witnessed her father pass away at the mercy–or lack thereof–of armed men who ravaged the peace and quiet of her provincial home.

Vivencion Sahay, a religious man, kept to their house and the church. As far as they were concerned, he had done absolutely nothing to deserve an untimely death.

She still recalls vivid images of the morning of November 23. A man in a black hat, head wrapped tight in a gray bonnet. Black clothes and a slingbag. Shades which showed off all the colors in the spectrum whenever the sunlight touches them.

Most vivid of all, a gun.

“May kunin ako tas may narinig akong putok, tatlong beses. Na-ano si Papa, parang napahawak sa ulo niya tas napa-upo,” she recalls.

Mejorado did not see her 53-year-old father fall to the ground. She had followed his lead and ducked, her seated position the only protection from men who were clearly out to kill them.

A minute or two later, Mejorada was able to escape. But not without having fear instilled into her.

Three gunshots, then one. Mejorada  planned to run back home yet the man followed her still.

“Humingi ako ng tulong,” she said, “pagsigaw ko, bumalik siya sa daanan niya.”

Why guns were trained on Mejorada’s family, however, they have yet to find out. A month after her father’s death, the night before Christmas, no trace has been tracked.

Mysterious and brutal though it may be, this killing is only one of thousands that have left broken families in its wake.

There has been no shortage of deaths recounted in the daily news, its sickening normalcy dawning on many. If a country’s history binds its people, the Philippines is then tightly bonded in a rope of carnage.

Bodies have been piling up in the streets for the many wars being waged against the people this government once swore to serve.

“Masakit eh,” Mejorada said, her brief statement caught between shaky breaths. She does not elaborate. There is no need. Yet hers echoes the story of hundreds of families ravaged by guns and bullets.

Bullets, not bells

Bodies have been piling up in the streets for the many wars being waged against the people this government once swore to serve.

One is the war ravaging Mindanao, a war on the people and their land disguised as martial rule meant to protect the people.

The other is the war on dissent, leading to disappeared, jailed, or murdered activists.

And finally, the infamous war on drugs, leaving thousands slain, be it men, women or children.

All of them, according to the police, fought back and earned their grave, even when the police reports fail to add up.

One such case is that of Carl Arnaiz.

Months after the case, justice remains a mere Christmas wish to the family.

The administrative case filed against the police involved in Carl Arnaiz’s horrendous killing has last been updated in November.

“Bale yung recommendation ng IAS is tanggalin na sa serbisyo yung mga pulis, pero na kay (PNP Chief General) Bato pa rin daw yung final decision,” Eva Arnaiz, Carl’s mother, explained.

She said they hoped to hear news around December, giving the government weeks of leeway.

But the carols are nearing their end and the month’s final week is fast approaching with no justice in sight.

Naughty and nice

The hard work to get the case where it is now was nothing, Eva said, but the agony lay in the empty hours spent in between.

Naiiisip ko rin yun, na matagal, pero ang nilalagay ko nalang sa isip ko rin na di bale nang matagalan basta makuha namin yung para kay Carl,” she says.

She speaks with a steady voice, untinged with the strain that the past new months had burdened her with. Still, despite the promise of Christmas, the silences in between the forced holiday cheer are heavily filled with what had been lost.

Not that they were lavish when it comes to Christmas celebrations anyway, she explains. But small families held on to the simple joys of intimate moments and Carl’s last Noche Buena was what his mother remembers as the best.

Cold weather and all, Carl had been busy making bread rolls for anybody who was interested, in exchange for a small sum of money. Before his final stop for Christmas eve dinner at his own house, he had been stopping over at his friends and relatives’ homes to do what he did best.

“Masaya siya nung last year na Christmas e. Isa sa pinakamasaya niyang Christmas yun kasi nagstart na rin siya nung magbusiness. Yun siguro mamimiss namin, kasi yung last Christmas niya memorable na sa amin yun e,” she says.

Tonight, on the eve of the twenty-fifth, there is nothing more that Eva wanted than her son to come home through their front door; happy and content, no different from a scene in Christmas past.

Another wish denied, along with those of the many mourning families from this land.

On the other side of the fence, others will be celebrating a Christmas happier than most; their circumstances brought about by a all too familiar combination of political influence and wealth.

This Christmas eve, a man accused of stealing from his people will be allowed to spend the holidays with his family. Bong Revilla and his former aide will sit warmly in their own homes tonight, basking in the luxury they always had and always will have.

“In the spirit of Christmas”, Aegis Juris leader Arvin Balag, is set free, the case of Horacio Castillo dishonored and left to dust.

As with years before, that several powerful families will celebrate in the multimillion confines of their homes, feasting and bathing in power while the impoverished are left with scraps for Christmas eve dinner.

These are the stories of a cold Christmas eve, in a land where snow does not fall but blood runs like a river.


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