Justice for Kian

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TOOTS OPLE

YESTERDAY, my only daughter celebrated her 32nd birthday. We booked a place, invited the family over, and spent hours swapping stories, and just having fun.

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Today, thousands of Filipino families will seize this holiday as an occasion to hold reunions, relax outside the city, and just forget all about their troubles for even a single day.

Count us among the lucky ones.

The family of 17-year-old Kian de los Santos will be celebrating his birthdays with an empty chair.

There will be no holidays to plan for, no graduations to look forward to, no wedding and the birth of a grandchild. The boy is dead.

And what tears our hearts apart is this simple truth: it was not his time.

There is nothing in the world that could justify the shooting of a 17-year-old by cops not in uniform, for a crime that allegedly involved possession of illegal drugs, and at a dead-end lot where his arresting officers had physically dragged him.

Those who see politics in the vitriol that was unleashed by enraged citizens over Kian’s death need only to search their conscience. This was a skinny high school boy. His mother, Lorenza, is an OFW who has been working so hard in Saudi Arabia as a domestic worker to pay for Kian’s education. There was absolutely no reason to kill the boy.

Yes, we aspire to achieve a drug-free society. But the right to life is an entitlement that we have always presumed to be inherent, inviolable, and yes, invincible. In Kian’s case, he clearly had no intention to flee. The police officers could just have brought him to the nearest precinct for interrogation. Did he fight back? Was he armed? Were the lives of several police officers endangered by Kian’s actions?

His arresting officers will say, yes, to all these questions. The 17-year-old had the intent to kill them so they shot him first. How can these officers reconcile their answers with an eyewitness account and CCTV footage of what actually happened?

According to a witness, she followed the officers as they dragged Kian to a dead-end lot. “Take this gun, fire it, and run,” the eyewitness told a reporter in Filipino. She said Kian ran away without firing the gun. The police fired their weapons at Kian while he was running.

That his mother, Lorenza, had to beg for permission to come home from her Saudi employer, adds to the intensity of the pain of this story. She is a domestic worker, a modern-day hero, to us, to her family and especially to Kian. She does not deserve to come home to embrace the icy cold cadaver of her 17-year-old son. No one does.

“The last time I spoke to him on the phone, he was asking for money so he could buy a bike. A few days after, he’s dead,” the grieving mother said in a radio interview.

Zaldy de los Santos described his son as God-fearing and kind. “He didn’t even know how to curse, and everyone who knew him can attest that my son was a good person.”

Both parents called on the public and the government to help them seek justice for Kian. “Mga magulang din kayo. May mga anak din kayo. Huwag niyo kaming pabayaan. Maawa kayo sa anak ko.” (“You are parents too. You have children to. Don’t leave us to face this alone. Have pity on Kian.”)

Indeed, would a drug runner or courier even request his OFW mother for money to buy a bike? One needs only to check on his school records to see the consistency of his actions. A young person involved in illegal drugs would have found school to be irrelevant.

We look to the Commission on Human Rights to get all the facts together and to assist the family in their search for the truth.

We look to the Senate for action on pending resolutions for an immediate inquiry into Kian’s death.

We look to the Department of Justice through the National Bureau of Investigation to uncover the truth about this sad and tragic incident.

We expect the PNP under the leadership of General “Bato” de la Rosa to conduct its own internal affairs investigation into this shooting incident.

There is no reason for anyone to feel defensive over the rising tide of outrage over Kian’s death, other than those who may have pulled the trigger. This is not about politics, especially not for civilians who only wish that what happened to Kian will not happen to anyone else. This is about family, about values, about the kind of direction that we appear to be headed.

Let’s keep a tight watch over this case, as if Kian was of our own flesh and blood. Let the truth come out as a responsible, urgent institutional response to our collective outrage. We can never feel safe otherwise.

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