Text by Mateo P. Garcia and Diwa Villanueva
Photos by Mateo P. Garcia

Catalino “Nono” Cabas, Jr. would have been 23 years old by now.

Instead, he was killed in what police authorities insist was a ‘buy-bust operation’ in the early hours of June 20, about a month before his birthday. Nono’s body bore four gunshot wounds: two on his chest, one on his stomach and one on his hip.

Rosalina Cabas, Nono’s mother, sent him out of their home in a relocation site in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan to buy instant noodles before midnight of June 20. He never came home.

Thinking that Nono spent the night at the barangay hall, she went about her usual morning routine of taking her grandchild to school. When she returned home at around six a.m., a neighbor approached her: “May ulat na kasama [si Nono] sa damputan kagabi, sinakay ng mobile, may tama sa hita.”

Pumunta ako agad ng police station. Pagdating ko doon sa police station, may nakita nga akong binaba na kasamahan niya na nahuli nung gabi. Nagtanong ako sa isang pulis, kung saan yung mga nahuli kagabi sa Barangay Gaya-Gaya,” says Rosalina.

Barangay Gaya-Gaya, San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan

She was told to talk to the people arrested the night before to ask about Nono. Among those arrested was someone from her neighborhood. “Nagtanong ulit ako, ‘Nasaan si Nono?’ Sinagot niya ako, ‘Nauna na sa amin.’”

She was then advised to inquire at hospitals in the area. Her son-in-law looked for Nono in a hospital in nearby Sapang Palay. Rosalina visited the barangay hall to ask if they have any record of Nono being arrested the night before. There was no record there.

Returning to the police station, Rosalina was told to look for Nono in a funeral parlor. “Sir, ‘wag n’yo naman akong biruin nang ganyan. ‘Wag n’yo naman akong papuntahin sa lugar na ‘yan.” The police officer did not offer a reply.

She then went over to the Sapang Palay hospital with a son-in-law to check their records. Rosalina quotes the security guard as saying, “May dinala [dito], may pumunta ditong patrol bandang ala-una.” She begged the guard for more information, who then suggested that she go to a funeral parlor known to take in bodies killed in police operations.

It was at the funeral parlor where Rosalina’s worst fears were realized. Rosalina recalls a funeral parlor employee describing a body they received overnight. “Pagkasabi na naka-boxer, doon na po ako nakasigurado na anak ko na po talaga ‘yun.”

Petsa bente [June 20] na nung nakita ko ang anak ko, mga alas otso yata ng gabi.”

By this point Rosalina still had no idea how her son was killed. Accompanied by her daughter Jonalyn, she went back to the police station to ask for a police report. The police refused the request. “Hindi raw pwede dahil baka mamaya, gamitin lang namin kung saan-saan.”

They explained that they need a police report in order to solicit financial assistance from non-government organizations. “Kung LGU (local government unit) daw ang manghihingi, magbibigay daw sila. Baka kung magbigay daw sa amin ng police report tapos may makabasa na marunong tumingin nito, ‘yun ang sabi sa amin kaya daw hindi kami pwedeng bigyan.”

Their issues with the police continued throughout Nono’s wake at the family home. “Natatakot po kami dahil may laging paikot-ikot dito, gabi-gabi, tanghali. Bubusina pa dito nang pagkalakas-lakas. Hindi naman sila ganyan nung hindi pa namatay yung anak ko.”

Many of their neighbors chose not to attend the wake for fear of being linked to the family. As a result, the family was not able to raise enough funds from the abuloy—a Filipino tradition of giving financial contributions to a family who lost a loved one. In fact, it took the family close to three weeks to obtain enough funds to pay a fraction of funeral and burial expenses—a condition from the funeral parlor for them to allow Nono’s burial. 

Overwhelmed with grief, security worries and financial pressures, the family sought assistance from various groups. PhilRights, the Medical Action Group (MAG), and Partido Lakas ng Masa (PLM) all pitched in to assist the family to facilitate Nono’s burial. The family also received financial assistance from the local government of San Jose Del Monte. 

On Sunday, July 8, Nono was finally buried in a public cemetery. Around 200 relatives, neighbors, and friends all joined the funeral procession which they dubbed Paghatid ng Bayan, Hanap Katarungan.”

In mourning: The Cabas Family during the Paghatid ng Bayan, Hanap Katarungan funeral procession for Nono

Rosalina and the Cabas family are now calling for justice and answers to what actually happened. The grieving mother asks: “Anong kaso? Anong kasalanan? Bakit nila ginanun?”

The Police Story: The ‘Nanlaban’ Narrative

The family never did get a copy of the police report. It took media interest, particularly a television news report by ABS-CBN, for the police to finally produce a spot report of their operation on that fateful night. In a digital copy obtained by PhilRights, the report says that the members of the intelligence and drug enforcement units of the San Jose Del Monte police station conducted a buy-bust operation against an alias Boyet which resulted in an armed encounter when an alias Nonong (later identified as Nono) fired shots against the police officers. The police fired back, landing shots on Nono. He was pronounced dead on the scene.

Nabbed during the operation were an alias Boyet, a Mr. Santos, and a Ms. Labrador, while a certain Jhon Paul managed to escape. The arrested suspects, according to the report, were also found with seven sachets containing suspected shabu, including the buy-bust item, Php 800 cash, including the buy-bust money, drug paraphernalia, and a cal. 45 firearm allegedly used by Nono.

The ABS-CBN report quotes Superintendent Fitz Macariola, chief of the San Jose Del Monte police station as saying:  “Nagkaroon po kami ng buy-bust operation noon, at si Nono ay napatay nu’ng manlaban, binaril niya ang pulis natin.”

July 6, 2018 news report of ABS-CBN’s George Cariño on Nono’s death

A photo of Nono’s lifeless body was also released by the police [Photo at 1:04 of the ABS-CBN news report]. The photo clearly shows a man’s naked torso and a partial view of the man’s boxer shorts. This matches Rosalina’s description of what Nono was wearing when she sent him out.

The family refuses the police narrative, pointing out that given what Nono was wearing, it would have been difficult to conceal a firearm such as a cal .45 without the police noticing. They are also wondering how Nono could have been part of a buy-bust operation when Nono has no known involvement with illegal drugs.

Another question is how Nono was brought to the funeral parlor from the scene, not far from the Cabas home, without the family being told. The police report notes that SOCO was requested to process the crime scene. The funeral parlor informed the family that the city’s SOCO team conducted an autopsy. When the family requested a copy of the autopsy report from SOCO, they were told that the doctor who needed to sign the document is out of the country and will not be available for a month. As of this writing, the family still has not received an official autopsy report.

The Cabas Family joined the United Peoples’ SONA on July 23, 2018 to demand Justice for Nono

Fighting Back

The family’s grief has now translated into righteous anger. From the authorities’ failure in providing the official account on what happened on July 20 to the alleged daily harassment from roving police mobile units, they have had enough: Nono deserves justice.

Jonalyn, Nono’s sister, describes him as a kind brother. “Nung walang-wala ako, siya ang nag-sustento sa anak ko ng gatas at diapers.” 

A hard worker, Nono often ran out of money because he gave what he earned to his mother, for the family’s basic needs. “Magpahinante sa truck, mag-deliver ng cooking gas, lumaot sa dagat, mag-construction—kahit mahirap ang trabaho, ok lang sa kanya basta huwag lang niya makita na nagugutom ang magulang at mga kapatid ko.”

Napakabata pa ng kapatid ko,” Jonalyn says. That he died for reasons the family does not understand compounds their grief further. Says Jonalyn: “Napakahirap sa aming tanggapin ang pagkamatay niya. Hindi namin alam kung bakit sa kanya pa ito nangyari.”

It is this search for answers and accountability that fuels the family’s fight. “Kaming magkakapatid, ayaw naming mawalan ng saysay ang buhay ng kapatid ko,” a tearful Noly, the victim’s brother, said during the burial service for Nono.

While they admit that they risk their safety by demanding justice, they insist that they cannot let Nono’s death become just another count in this government’s bloody campaign against illegal drugs.

Speaking during a small gathering before Nono’s burial, Jonalyn, through tears and with a voice wracked with grief and anger, asks “Ilang buhay pa ba ng kukunin ninyo? Ilang buhay pa ba at pamilya ang sisirain ninyo? Wala kayong awa!

She stops. Then, as if carrying the full weight of sorrow of every other Filipino family who has lost a loved one in this so-called war on drugs, she repeats: “Wala kayong awa.”

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