On Independence Day, mother who lost son to Oplan Tokhang calls for 'true freedom'
MANILA, Philippines – In an Independence Day protest on Wednesday, June 12, one woman standing among a crowd of protesters carried the burden of being trapped in grief, remembering how she lost someone she loved.
Last 2016, 3 days after Christmas and while other families were bringing their children to vacation spots or restaurants, Emily Soriano sent her 15-year-old son, who was shot in an operation of the administration's Oplan Tokhang, to his grave. (READ: The Impunity Series)
Having a son who wanted to be a soldier, Emily never imagined to see her son drowning in his own blood in their own neighborhood in Bagong Silang, Caloocan. Emily recalled how the incident suddenly imprisoned her in fear, grief, and a hunger for justice.
"Hindi nawawala 'yung takot at hindi parin nakakamit ang katarungan at kalayaan. Nakabaon tayo ngayon, 'yung isang paa natin nasa hukay na dahil sa nangyayaring Oplan Tokhang ngayon," she said. (I am still afraid and I believe we haven't achieved freedom and justice yet. We are buried, our one foot is in the pit because of Oplan Tokhang)
Together with other protesters, Soriano took to the streets on Independence Day to call for "true freedom" in the Philippines amid issues involving China's growing presence in the country and the government's stance on the disputed West Philippine Sea. The protest was dubbed "End Dependence Day" and was held at Kalaw Avenue in Manila City.
Interestingly, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte also made the same call in his 2019 Independence Day message, saying that he is hoping for true independence "within our lifetimes."
'Fighting for the whole community'
Despite the tragedy, Emily said she suddenly found herself on a new path. She began fighting not only for her son but also for other victims when the organization Rise Up for Life and Human Rights approached her and aided her with the case.
"Sa lugar palang namin halos 2,000 ang biktima ng extrajudicial killings pero 50 lang may dokumento," she said. (In our place, there's an estimated 2,000 victims of extrajudicial killings but only 50 of them have documents)
She is now Rise UP’s spokesperson and is a human rights’ advocate. Going beyond herself, Emily is now also fighting for the whole community. (READ: Duterte gov't allows 'drug war' deaths to go unsolved)
"Baka kaya nangyari ito sa anak ko, ginawa itong instrumento ng Diyos upang mamulat ako na tumulong sa iba," she said. (Maybe the reason why it happened to my son is because God intended to use it as an instrument to make me realize I can help others.)
Emily found her voice and is now committed to bringing freedom to Filipinos who are trapped in fear and silence, whatever it takes.
"Ayaw kong makita ako ng mga kagaya ko na mahina ako," Emily said. (I do not want other people like me to see that I'm weak.) – Rappler.com
Elijah Allen Macaspac is a Rappler intern and is pursuing a Journalism degree at the University of the Philippines Diliman.