THE bloody war on drugs may have purged Western Visayas of suspected drug peddlers, but it also left a wife without a husband, a mother who lost her son, and orphans.
Early morning of Sept 3, 2018, Emily Gobatanga and Edna Gobatanga learned that their children were killed in an alleged police anti-narcotics operation in an area in Antique, more or less 100 kilometers away from their house at Brgy. Ticud, La Paz, Iloilo City.
According to police reports, Jennifer Gobatanga, 32, and his third cousin, Gayrell Gobatanga, 38, allegedly put up a fight, or in police parlance “nanlaban,” with the teams from the PNP Regional Drug Enforcement Unit, Provincial DEU-Antique, and San Jose Police Station.
Their families immediately travelled to Antique and were reunited with their children’s remains at the morgue.
Emily Gobatanga told RMN-Iloilo that she did not bother to check on her son’s injuries.
“Sang na-abtan ko siya sa morgue, gin-hakos ko na siya. Tiil pa lang sang bata ko, kilala ko na. Wala na ko kabalo kung diin ang iya igo,” Emily said.
(When I saw him at the morgue, I immediately hugged him. I know my son’s feet. I didn’t check on his injuries.)
She attested that her son, Gayrell, was a “stay-at-home person” and was drawn to tending his fighting cocks.
On Sunday afternoon, Gayrell asked his mother to cook fishball as he went out to buy a bottle of soft drink.
“We ate together before he informed me that he would leave for a while,” Emily said in Hiligaynon.
She did not expect that it would be the last time she would see her son alive.
“Tani matagaan hustisya ang bata ko. Wala ko na siya ginpadako para lang patyon,” Emily added.
(I hope justice would be served for my son. I didn’t raise him just to be killed like that.)
Emily Gobatanga added that her son was not into the illegal drug trade and if indeed he was, they would not struggle with their daily expenses.
She added that if her son indeed guilty, the police could have just arrested him, “at least I would still see him alive,” she said.
If Emily Gobatanga did not bother to look at her son’s injuries, the 58-year-old Edna Gobatanga said that her son Jennifer sustained severe injuries on the back of his head and chest.
“Kaluluoy sang sitwaayon sang bata. Daw sobra pa sa sapat,” Edna Gobatanga said.
(My son was in a sorry state. He was treated worse than an animal.)
Meanwhile, Marilou Gustilo, Jennifer’s common-law wife, said they are still puzzled why the latter ended up in Antique.
Several residents have claimed they saw persons on a black vehicle picking up the two slain men in Ticud village late Sunday afternoon.
They ended up dead Monday during the supposed police buy-bust operation.
Jennifer allegedly tried to shoot the police officers using a caliber .38 revolver while Gayrell was allegedly armed with a hand grenade.
For the San Jose Police Station, the Gobatanga cousins’ scope of operations may have reached Antique province.
Superintendent Mark Anthony Darroca, San Jose police chief, said the two have clients in the area where they were killed.
In fact, Darroca said the two yielded 11 sachets of suspected shabu, aside from the two sachets they sold to the police poseur-buyer.
According to Joel Jaboneta, village chief of Ticud, La Paz, the Gobatangas have no record of misdemeanor in their village.
However, they were on the list of the Barangay Drug Abuse Council (BADAC) as drug users. They did not surrender through Oplan Tokhang.
But Gayrell appeared before Jaboneta in 2016 and promised him that he would not engage in the illegal drug trade, which appeared to be the case a year after.
Seven hours before the Gobatangas were gunned down, another drug suspect was also killed in Jaro, Iloilo City.
Gabriel Poblacion was armed with a caliber .38 revolver and a hand grenade, police claimed.
On July 27, the RDEU also conducted a buy bust operation at Molo, Iloilo City which led to the death of suspected drug pusher Alex Blanca Sr., 52.
Amid these deaths, the Police Regional Office 6 (PRO) -6 said its campaign against illegal drugs and other crimes would be sustained and unrelenting.
“It is expected therefore that the number of arrested suspects will continue to increase as police operations continue,” said Chief Superintendent John Bulalacao, Western Visayas police chief.
On the issue of deaths among suspects, “it would all depend upon the decision of these armed criminals whether to surrender peacefully or put up a fight with law enforcers,” he said.
“If they decide to peacefully surrender then there will be no more deaths. If they do put up fight against law enforcers then such number may increase beyond our control,” Bulalacao stressed.
Since the government launched an aggressive campaign against illegal drugs on July 2016, Western Visayas police recorded 62 deaths during police operations.
Antique province topped the list of the number of drug casualties in the region.