The delos Santos family visits Kian’s grave on his 18th birthday

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Kian delos Santos' parents and siblings only see each other whenever there’s a court hearing or when there are special circumstances like this, Kian’s birthday. Photo by KIMBERLY DELA CRUZ

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Kian delos Santos’ family looks like any normal Filipino family visiting the cemetery, except they’re not. Not anymore. Carrying containers of pancit, cakes, and candles, Kian's family have a modest picnic in the cemetery while celebrating a birthday that never was.

On Saturday, May 26, 2018, Kian would’ve been 18 and on his first year of college, but he was killed on August last year by cops conducting an operation called Oplan Galugad. When the news first came out, police claimed 17-year-old Kian Delos Santos had a .45 caliber gun and fired it at the cops. His case was sensational, everyone knew his name. Another minor killed, 54th during that time according to Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center.

The details of his death unraveled on the news. CCTV footage showed that he was being led by the police, witnesses claimed hearing Kian begging to let him go, that he had an exam tomorrow. An independent autopsy was conducted and concluded that he was executed.

2018526KD_KIANBDAY_1.jpg Kian's family approach his grave while commemorating his 18th birthday in La Loma Catholic Cemetery. Delos Santos was a minor killed by cops in Caloocan last year and his death spurred public outrage. Photo by KIMBERLY DELA CRUZ

Elsa, Kian’s mother, was working then as a domestic helper in Saudi to support her family. She had to beg her employers to let her come home. When she arrived in the country, she came home to her son in a casket while journalists and investigators hovered in the wake. The days that followed were crucial as the nation tuned in to their story. Another innocent life lost to the drug war and every one wanted answers. A senate investigation was televised. Kian’s family met with the President and was taken into the witness protection program.

At the cemetery, two members of Intelligence Security Operations Group (ISOG) stand guard while Elsa and Lala, Kian’s youngest sister prepare the food. They find shade under a tree a couple of steps away from Kian’s grave. Other family members arrive carrying cake. Hugs and kisses ensue. They catch up and take photos while eating.

“Ipinalabas na naman siya kagabi sa balita,” his mother says. His grandmother Violeta, quips saying she has been shouting for Kian to fetch her something. “Sigaw ako ng sigaw, ‘Kian, Kian’ dalhin mo nga rito yung ano’ tapos naalala ko, wala na pala sya.” They fawn over the little children, passing them from arm to arm, wiping sweat from the summer heat.

2018526KD_KIANBDAY_2.jpg Kian's family light candles at his grave as they commemorate his 18th birthday. Some of his family members entered witness protection program and reunites during court hearings or special occasions in the cemetery. Photo by KIMBERLY DELA CRUZ

Kian’s parents, including his younger sister and older brother, have been in the program after the burial, while some family members stayed at their house in Caloocan. They only see each other whenever there’s a court hearing or on special circumstances like this, Kian’s birthday. When asked how life is in the witness protection program, they say it’s boring. There’s nothing to do but watch T.V. They mention raising two hamsters in their isolation. They have to write a letter and ask permission if they need to go somewhere and one cannot leave without a guard.

“Nakakainip din pero sanayan din,” Saldy Delos Santos, Kian’s father says. He adds that they are thankful that the trials are progressing. They have met other families who have been in the witness protection program for years but have lesser progress to their case.

“Tapusin lang namin ‘to, sa probinsya na kami.” Saldy says, referring to their plans after their battle for justice. “Kailangan lumakas yung loob kasi kinawawa nila yung bata. Ipaglaban ko na lang suya. Sinayang lang nila 'yung buhay ng bata, dapat ngayon, kaarawan niya,” he adds.

Goodbye came after two hours with another round of hugs and kisses. An envelope full of school supplies were handed out to Lala. She was forced to stop schooling but hopes to continue this coming school year. Pictures were taken and instructions were given. “Dalhin mo 'yung kaldero sa hearing, ha,” Elsa tells her brother-in-law, Randy.

They touch Kian’s grave for the last time.

2018526KD_KIANBDAY_4.jpg Kian’s family share a simple meal while commemorating his 18th birthday. Photo by KIMBERLY DELA CRUZ

2018526KD_KIANBDAY_9.jpg Kian’s parents, including his younger sister and older brother, have been in the witness protection program after the burial, while some family members stayed at their house in Caloocan. Photo by KIMBERLY DELA CRUZ

2018526KD_KIANBDAY_6 (1).jpg Two members of Intelligence Security Operations Group stand guard as Kian Delos Santos’ family gather around his grave. Photo by KIMBERLY DELA CRUZ

2018526KD_KIANBDAY_5.jpg Elsa delos Santos, Kian's mother, was working as a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia when she learned about Kian's death. Here she is carrying her niece BX. Photo by KIMBERLY DELA CRUZ

2018526KD_KIANBDAY_7.jpg Kian’s family touch his grave as they said their goodbyes. Kian would have been 18 and on his first year of college. Photo by KIMBERLY DELA CRUZ