As grave leases expire, the dead of the Philippine drug war are exhumed.
Rodzon Enriquez’s skeletal remains are exhumed and placed in a body bag from a coffin-sized tomb in Manila. The lease on the 21-year-cemetery old’s is about to expire, five years after he was killed in the Philippines’ drug war.
Activists estimate that tens of thousands of people have died since President Rodrigo Duterte ordered police to pursue drug addicts and traffickers in a highly criticised campaign that has disproportionately targeted impoverished men.
Many of the dead were buried in “apartment” graves stacked meters high in overcrowded cemeteries throughout the sprawling capital, where a five-year lease on a rectangular concrete box costs around 5,000 pesos ($100).
As leases expire, a Catholic organization is assisting families who cannot afford the renewal price in retrieving their loved ones’ bones in order to have them cremated and buried permanently.
After her son’s bones were carried away on a stretcher by two men wearing masks, gloves, and protective coats, Corazon Enriquez, 63, told AFP, “I don’t want his remains thrown away.”
Duterte’s promise to cleanse the Philippines of narcotics had been embraced by the mother of seven children.
Soon after taking power, Duterte warned the public, “If you know of any addicts, go ahead and murder them yourself because forcing their parents to do it would be too painful.”
Enriquez, on the other hand, had no idea the campaign would target her own family.
Rodzon, a fishing port worker who relied on methamphetamine to remain awake during long shifts, was shot dead in his bed by police weeks after Duterte gained power, she claimed.
“I wanted to have him at home – even if his physical body isn’t here anymore, I know he’s still here,” Enriquez said of the ashes she hopes to keep until a new place is found.
“I’m still in pain — I wish I could have swapped places with my son.”
The exhumation attempt is being led by Father Flavie Villanueva, an outspoken critic of Duterte. Thousands of cremations may be required in the future years when leases expire, he warned.
Villanueva aims to someday keep the ashes in a columbarium to provide victims with a “dignified” final resting place — as well as provide closure to their families.
“It’s already too much to lose a loved one — should you also lose his remains?” the priest, who is gathering funds to fund the big project, added.
He continued, “They’re human beings… they deserve more.”
Villanueva witnessed the exhumations of seven drug war suspects on a single day earlier this month. Brief News from Washington Newsday.