He Never Came Home

Text and photos by Basilio Sepe

She waited, but he never came back.

Rowena Ilaw, a mother of three, last saw her husband on the night of June 28.

On June 29, she received a call. The message was brief. Her husband, Enrique Cahilig, was dead and he was in a morgue in Rizal.

Ilaw could not believe the news until she saw his cold corpse in front of her.

“I no longer have a husband. I was waiting for nothing,” Ilaw thought to herself as the mother of three pondered how she had to stay strong for their children.

According to a police report, Cahilig was killed after allegedly fighting back during a police buy-bust operation. 

"Nanlaban," which loosely translates to retaliating during a police operation, has been an all-too-common reason behind Philippine police officers' decision to pull the trigger.

“He was a good man. He got along with people well. He didn’t do anything wrong so I don’t know why he didn’t come back,” said Rowena.

The death toll in President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war continues to increase midway through his term. 

Tens of thousands have been killed, from Cahilig to 3-year-old Myca Ulpina, who was a "collateral damage" during another police operation, according to human rights organizations.

However, the Philippine government has a much lower death toll in its ongoing war on drugs.

Three years on, both local critics and international organizations continue to raise the alarm and cry for justice amid the bloodshed.

Amnesty International recently called on the United Nations to conduct an urgent investigation into President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs.

It took three weeks before Cahilig was buried on July 21 at Bagbag public cemetery in Novaliches, Quezon City.

Ilaw, meanwhile, continues to wait, not for a husband to come home, but for answers to why he did not.


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