Helping our children deal with violent, graphic images from this #WarOnDrugs

My heart skipped a beat. “That looks like a child”, was my first thought  when I saw this photo seen lying near St. Scholastica Academy in Marikina.  Fearing for the lives of her children,  Dittie Galang posted this photo in her Facebook account. She simply cannot simply “sit down while the violence creeps closer to her children” .  A parent commented that it  “was so traumatic for the kids to hear that they could not reach the gate to their school (gate 5) because it was a few meters away ” from the dead body. A second body was discovered along Sapphire St. in front of the Iglesia ni Cristo church at the same time. Another parent adds “we live in this street (a few steps from where this photo was taken in fact) and in my 20+ years in Marikina, this is the first time this has happened in our fairly quiet neighborhood.”

Some comments range from “do not assume this is extra judicial killing (EJK)” or ” it could be hit and run”.   Bonki Almirante nails it when she points out “my god that looks like a child! People are splitting hairs trying to look for definitions of EJK or not, who did it or not. The point is there is a climate of killing. Period. Rhetoric induced it. An all out war is executing it. And innocents suffer along with the guilty.”

Dittie asks “is this meant to mock the government? Or is this a build up to declaring martial law? I need you to share this until we all find the answers. I cannot simply sit down while the violence creeps closer to my children.. ” Like Dittie, I am angry and have many questions as well.

Photo via Dittie Galang . Used with permission. Some rights reserved.

What is disturbing is more and more children are exposed to the violence of the drug war. But aren’t our children already exposed to violence on TV or their games?  In middle class homes,  some of our children are busy playing  violent video games. The kids who can afford to play video games have vicarious experiences. Dr. Liane Peña Alampay, a developmental psychologist explains in a PCIJ report that “unlike these, those shown in news reports – whether on TV, print, or online – are real and no longer vicarious… In fact, the victims as well as the perpetrators of violence could be anyone’s relative or neighbor.” Killings are glorified  using various weapons in the games. They have a positive view of the heroes who kill the villains. The villains in these video games are clear.

Some of the drug suspects that are killed were drug users and not necessarily pushers.  In another  PCIJ report , Dr. Alampay adds that “drug addiction is an illness with many factors and risks that make a person vulnerable to drug use.”  Some may look at drug use as a crime and not as an illness.  “They will see the drug user not as a victim, but as a bad person who, in the present context, deserves to be killed.”

A teacher shares her experience with her Grade 5 students when she asked them how they see themselves 10 to 15 years from now and what problem they want to solve. She did not expect to see the words “to be an assassin:, “killer of pushers”, “killer of bad persons” as a solution to problems of poverty, terrorism and drugs.  How will educators face this?


Reden Macaraeg Juego , an educator suggests that teachers can encourage critical minds and  “present them with all these issues and provide them both sides”. The rationale on the war on drugs must be explained  such as the pros annd cons of the government’s steps on eradicating illegal drugs in the country. Reden adds that the students ” might be able to really side on what they know is right and we should respect their educated opinions”. Educators can even ask their students to play the role of the president and express better ideas based on their critical analysis of the issue. By going through this process,  “you are not imposing values…..but you are presenting two options….now it is up to them to choose… the end of the day…..the purpose of education is not to dictate but to teach people to become critical.”

What is our responsibility as adults  to clarify the issues that will inevitably present themselves in these young minds ?  How do we protect our children?

The American Psychological Association, analyzed research in media violence, concluding that effects on children as follows:

1) aggressive attitudes and behaviours

2) desensitization or increased callousness towards victims of violence

3) increased or exaggerated fear of being victimized by violence.

From a  public health point of view, the manifestation of aggression and violence may be the most concerning. All three may play a  severe impact throughout the life-course of children, youth, and ultimately our communities.

We don’t want our children to become ” desensitized to violence”.   According to Alampay, it “can be a problem because it could take away one’s ability to empathize with people’s suffering and experience of injustice.”  “Without empathy you cannot protest..You don’t become angry, you don’t become upset, you don’t demand for change. After a while people will stop talking about it. It becomes just another thing in our way of life.” There are suggestions  and age-specific considerations in protecting our children from media violence.  One suggestion is  “if violent or disturbing content is viewed or discussed in school — debriefings and conversations with children may focus on the suffering caused by such violence (i.e. to help prevent desensitization) combined with reassurance and indications of how various systems and individuals are assisting in a given situation (i.e. instance laws and protocols)”

Family plays an important role too.  We must  ensure that our children will have a deeper understanding of the current issues so correct values are instilled in  their young minds.  Educators can do the same.

“The more important TRUTH is this is another dead body. Another life taken by another man. And dropped where children can very well see it. It just has got to stop,” Dittie adds.

The rest of us must continue to call out , that these killings must stop.  The government must  run after all these criminals, not just one section of criminals. We must continue to call out unacceptable governance strategies because as my friend Inday Varona says “citizens should criticize leaders as needed — whether or not we voted for these leaders.”

I don’t have answers to most of Dittie’s questions but we, adults –parents and otherwise— must continue to provide a protective and nurturing role for our children today, our future leaders tomorrow.

This post is supported by a writing grant from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ)