While public support for Duterte’s campaign is robust, its results are difficult to accept for the families of bystanders like Columbino (the youngest-such innocent casualty was five-year-old Danica Mae Garcia, who died in August when a stray bullet intended for her grandfather, identified by police as a drug pusher, caught her in the neck). While his real name was Marvin, to his friends and family in the overlapping slum alleys just behind the big busy streets of Pasay in the capital of Manila where he lived, he was known as Balong, which, in the Pangasinan dialect, means “a loved boy.”
Roughly 50 of Balong’s friends attended his wake, taking part in a mix of old and new Filipino funeral traditions. Mourners gambled and played card games to stay awake and keep vigil (so as to be certain the departed is never alone). Some food, along with Balong’s sunglasses, wallet, and cellphone, sat at the base of his casket. A baby chick was placed atop the casket, in accordance with a superstitious belief that it would peck at the conscience of the guilty.
On the fifth and final day of Balong’s wake, the mourners speculated over the fate of Brent Bravo, the real target of the shooting. On the day of Balong’s death, the same masked man that had hunted Bravo down stormed into his house and finished the job, killing him, they said. “If [Bravo] is dead, it makes it … easier to bear,” Luisa said slowly. “But I want them to catch the one who did it, the one who shot my defenseless husband, innocently going about doing his job. I hope they find him and kill him, too.” (According to the police, Bravo went into hiding immediately after the shooting. Officials were unable to question him about the motives behind the attack or about the gunman, and the case has gone cold.)
“We are going to have a girl. My husband won’t ever get to see her,” Luisa said, rubbing her hand over her belly. The chick, which had been pacing across the glass-covered casket, jumped onto her lap and ambled up her swollen belly. Without Balong, there is nothing for her in Manila, she said. She has decided to move back in with her parents in Samar in central Philippines to give birth to her daughter.
Balong believed that being a good father and hardworking citizen would shield him from the bullets of Duterte’s war. “My husband and I would watch the news about all those addicts being killed. He would cheer the police and President Duterte. [He would say] that they got what they deserved. I would look at the widows of the men killed, but never thought I would be one of them,” Luisa said. “I voted for Duterte. We both did. My husband—even as he is lying there—doesn’t regret voting for him and would do it again. I am sure of it.”
Among those fighting Duterte’s brutal war, there are also victims. On the evening of August 19, 37-year-old Mark Garcia, a police officer, sent his wife, Judy, a text message: “One more operation, hon. This is the last one,” the message read. After 12 years of marriage, Judy, 36, was accustomed to Mark’s long, erratic hours. When they began dating, Mark was a police cadet. “If we get married, you will have to understand my job. My time will be split between you and my job and there will be times when the job will come first,” Judy recalled him saying. So Judy thought nothing of his text. And she saw nothing ominous about the squad car that rolled up to their house later. “They told me something had happened to Mark, and we should go the hospital. I thought he had gotten hurt—that’s all I was willing to think,” she said.