“Why my son? He was a good person,” said Angela Lising.
A mother could only grieve.
The killers of Joel Lising left no standard placard bearing the message “pusher ako, huwag tularan.” He was not a drug user or pusher after all.
Joel (or Jojo to family, friends and coworkers) was drinking his coffee as he waited for a passenger. His tricycle was queued at his group’s identified terminal on the corner of Herbosa and Magsaysay Streets in Tondo, Manila. It was 5:30am on December 5, there were only a few tricycles in line.
A motorcycle bearing two men in full face helmets sped by and stopped in front of Jojo. One of the two pointed a gun at him. He had turned to his side to run but the first shot caught him in the head. Few more shots to his body followed. Others in the vicinity ran for their lives when the shots rang. Jojo died at the scene. He was 43.
The way the killing was carried out made it clear that Jojo was the target. This was according to the accounts of witnesses.
And then there were the whispers in the neighborhood. One witness said that lights in the vicinity where Jojo was killed went off just before the motorcycle rode by and when they turned on again, Jojo was already lifeless, sprawled on the ground. It was dark and the sun rose only at 6:08 am that day. Another bystander in the crime scene said that when the police came to investigate, the police uttered without asking who died or what happened, “Isn’t this person once accused of frustrated murder? It’s not a surprise this happened to him.” But the residents have heard these ramblings of the police all too often that it may have not really made a difference to them what the police say or do when they come to take the dead away.
His was the sixth body brought to the Sol Memorial Homes that morning. The five others were expelled from this world by the bloody drug war in the country that has claimed the lives of around 5,000 since July this year. In that place and in the current schema of things, Jojo would have been easily listed away as another casualty of the drug war.
In the aftermath of Jojo’s death and another day of reporting the drug war body count, one major national broadsheet/online publication had published that Jojo surrendered and stopped using drugs a few months ago for fear of his life. In a press conference on December 9 at the Barangay 107 Multipurpose Hall, Angela disputed ideas that her son was a drug user or pusher.
“Jojo was not a drug user or pusher. He is known around here as an activist, especially when he became part of the protests against the phase out of tri-wheels in the city,” said Angela.
Angela herself thought the only case Jojo was involved was the frustrated murder charge slapped against him, but that was already resolved. And that happened years ago, in Jojo’s youth.
“He had no record of being a user or pusher. He had no other pending cases or complaints against him. He may have been sued before, but that was already resolved,” said Barangay Secretary Bernie Abadillo in the same press con.
Jojo was the public relations officer of the broad alliance Pagkakaisa ng mga Tri-Wheel Organizations para sa Kabuhayan (PATOK).
When before, pedicab, tricycle and kuliglig drivers (or collectively in the vernacular, tri-wheels) would be divided among their own operators and drivers’ association, they have united in one broad formation in the city of Manila in the face of imminent loss of livelihood. In September this year, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada announced that tri-wheels would be phased out to ease traffic in the city. Then he announced that the tri-wheels would be replaced with e-trikes. Having no means to upgrade to e-trikes and losing what little they own, tri-wheel drivers banded together. Jojo rose as one of the leaders of the broad number of informal workers, they whose lot are just a little worse than their counterparts in the factories or in the service sector for having no regular income, no job security, no benefits, and only their own back to break. Jojo became one of the organizers of PATOK in Tondo.
Today is the sixth day of Jojo’s funeral. The family has not picked a day for his burial as they are waiting for his sibling from the province, other relatives to come pay their last respects. The traditional Tagalog funerals would last a week long, but Jojo’s may take longer. But his mother mourns that getting justice may take longest.
“With the things happening in the country right now, this case might not be resolved. I still hope we will get justice for his death,” said Angela.
Stop the Killings Network and Rise Up For Life, alliances and campaign groups denouncing the flurry of drug war-related killings, is bothered that Oplan Tokhang, the police campaign against drugs, may now furtively be used to target activists.