By Columban Fr. Shay Cullen
Bennie had a thin, hollow face, the picture of malnutrition at 22 years of age, and had never been to school for more than a few months, could not read or write and he was a one-meal man. He ate once a day. He was dressed in shorts and a dirty t-shirt. His flip-flops were worn thin. They were his only possessions. He pushed a small wooden cart along the back streets of Manila picking up discarded plastic bottles, bits of metal that fell off a jeepney or a truck. He was a discarded piece of humanity himself.
On a lucky day in a garbage bin outside the gate of a mansion, he found an old computer keyboard. Finds like these were the treasures of his long walk. That was a big day for him and he sold it at the junk shop with the other bits and pieces he picked up. He joined his fellow scavengers and together they cooked what they found in the garbage -a plate of pagpag and a little rice. Pagpag is made from the throwaway leftovers from the plates of the diners that ended up in the restaurant’s garbage bags in the back alleyways. It is retrieved by the very poor and boiled in a big pot on the side of the road. It made an excellent meal– for the hungry poor.
After eating his pagpag, Bennie decided he would celebrate. That night he went down an alleyway to buy a small sachet of marijuana from the local reseller named Joey who was not much better off than him. Bennie just wanted to ease the loneliness of life, the ache in his back and legs, the pain in his feet and to forget for a short while the misery of his daily search for junk and his one meal of cheap pagpag food. There was nothing else in his life.
So just imagine what happened. Bennie was the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time. The small pusher Joey was a target of the hit squad that very night. They cut off the alleyway and moved in on the hovel of Joey. Two of the killers stepped inside and opened fire. Bennie and Joey were hit several times; they died within minutes. The hit team had a signboard ready, it read: “I’m a drug addict. I deserve to die.” That’s how they were found one hour later. It was a fast response. Two lives were ended over a one-dollar deal.
That can be a typical scene from the war-on-drugs. There has been a lot of success in the one-sided war since June 2016. Over 6000 Bennies, Joeys and others too, suspected sellers of marijuana or crystal meth, are dead, but no one is sure how many more. That’s about 1000 suspects killed each month. Killing a thousand people a month as is the present practice is not a cruel joke. Something sinister has been unleashed. It is cruel capital punishment seen every day. It must stop. We need to call for a ceasefire and stop what is happening to the Bennies and Joeys of the Philippines.
Columban Fr. Shay Cullen lives and works in the Philippines.