Ligaya's sorrow: Losing a brother to the drug war
MANILA, Philippines – Growing up, Ligaya Medina watched her parents earn a living by taking care of the dead. They cleaned tombs to make money.
As soon as she was old enough, Ligaya also took on the same job. Whenever visitors came to the Pasay Municipal Cemetery, she and her siblings would ask them if they would want to have their loved one's tomb cleaned.
As years passed, she eventually got regular customers – families who often ask her to clean their relatives' tombs for a fee.
Now 26, Ligaya still cleans tombs, making sure visitors would not find weeds or melted candle wax. Her life has not changed much, except that she now has two daughters, and runs a sari-sari store built in between tombs.
Business is especially booming in the days leading up to All Souls' Day.
But while more tombs to clean means good business, Ligaya laments that among the dozens of gravesites she will have to clean this year will be her brother's.
The last John
Early morning on November 17, 2016, a television news report came out about 8 men who were found dead in different areas the past night. The men's heads were wrapped with packaging tape and their bodies bore stab wounds. They all appeared to be summarily executed.
Ligaya watched the TV report, and thought one – whose tattoo was caught on camera – looked like her brother Ericardo. But it seemed impossible, she told herself, knowing that only drug pushers were being killed. Ericardo wasn't a drug pusher, Ligaya thought.
But Ericardo had not come home yet, and even their father felt that the dead man shown on TV looked like his son.
To calm their worries, Ligaya went to Rizal Funeral Homes where all of the 8 then-unidentified victims had been brought. There, she checked each body bag, hoping to see a stranger.
The first several body bags, to her relief, did not contain Ericardo – not his oval face or his flat nose, and especially none of his tattoos.
But the 8th body bag proved to be the one she had been dreading.
It revealed a man whose grimace was frozen in death – her brother's face showing that he suffered before his brutal killing.
The favorite son
Ericardo was never called Ericardo. He was called Pavarotti, a nickname his parents gave him for being the paborito (favorite) among the 5 Medina children. As a little boy, he cried over the littlest of things, so they showered him with attention.
When he grew up, he turned into a bully, who regularly played pranks on his siblings. His favorite to piss off was Ligaya.
It did not matter that they slept on top of strangers' tombs, or that they lived in a cemetery. The Medina family lived happily among the dead. Pavarotti, for one, spent his days perfecting his favorite Andrew E rap songs, with a beatbox or a guitar. He once told Ligaya the songs gave him peace of mind.
Most days, he also worked as a barker at the Metropoint Mall's jeepney terminal in Pasay City. When he earned enough, he would share the money with his family. Some days, he used the money to buy methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu.
But there was nothing more than that, according to Ligaya. She said her brother did not use marijuana, which police claimed was found in Ericardo's pockets on the night he was dumped dead in Makati City.
"Bakit may marijuana, eh shabu 'yung ginagamit niya? Bakit siya pinatay, hindi naman siya nagtutulak?" (Why was there marijuana in his pocket, when he uses shabu? Why was he killed, when he isn't a pusher?)
The forgotten one
The story of Ericardo's death is not too different from those of thousands also found sprawled dead on the street like him, just in the past year alone.
A case that has been widely reported is the death of pedicab driver Michael Siaron, whose grave is about 10 meters away from the Medinas' makeshift home at the cemetery. Siaron was shot dead in Pasay City by riding-in-tandem suspects on July 23, 2016.
He's the dead man in the viral photo taken by photojournalist Raffy Lerma, which showed him being cradled by his partner Jennilyn Olayres. The photo was published on the Philippine Daily Inquirer's front page on July 24, 2016, and became a powerful image of President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody drug war.
On October 21 this year, Malacañang said Siaron's case had already been solved, concluding that a member of a drug syndicate killed him.
Although Siaron was a stranger to Ligaya, the news came as a relief to her, knowing that an unexplained death had been solved.
But a painful question remains unanswered for her.
"Bakit 'yung kay Jennilyn at Michael, case closed na? Bakit 'yung kay Pavarotti, walang nangyayari?" (Why is the case involving Jennilyn and Michael already closed? Why isn't Pavarotti's case progressing?)
Every day, Ligaya watches the news on the latest deaths in the bloody war on drugs. When once she heard that a cop had admitted being ordered to kill a drug suspect, she lit a candle on Pavarotti's tomb.
"Ikaw din, 'wag mo silang patatahimikin (Don't let them rest)," she whispered.
Almost a year since her brother's death, the memory of Pavarotti still leaves Ligaya with sorrow.
"Kahit ano'ng pilit namin – kahit masaya kami dito, kapag biglang naalala siya, wala na," she said. (No matter how hard we try – even if we're happy here, whenever we remember him, it still hurts for us.)
Whenever Ligaya feels troubled, she does what she does best: she lights a candle on Pavarotti's grave. She places flowers beside it. She gives his tombstone a fresh coat of paint. She takes care of their family's dead.
"Ito lang ang magagawa ko." (It's the least I could do.) – Rappler.com