Joshua was your typical teenager. He was easy to get along with, according to his older brother Jasper. 'He had a positive mental attitude,' Jasper told me. 'But he was also quite shy.'
When you're a teenager, there are things you're allowed to get away with. Being obsessed with video games, for instance. Joshua's uncomplicated world revolved around Dota 2, a multiplayer online game so popular that tournaments of the game are played all around the world.
When you're a teenager, there are things you're allowed to get away with. Like getting a tattoo. Joshua loved the Queen of Pain, a Dota 2 hero, and had her image tattooed on his hand.
His mother Kristine didn't discourage her son—playing Dota meant that Joshua was safe, away from the lure of drugs and other menaces that preyed on young people.
Or so she thought.
When you're a teenager, there are things you're allowed to get away with. Like going on adventures with your friends. Joshua had gotten good enough at Dota 2 to play local and out-of-town tournaments. On August 14 last year, Joshua and two of his friends left for Baguio City for one such tournament.
Not having enough money to pay for bus fare, the boys decided to hitch rides on trucks to get to Baguio and back. Truck drivers were usually friendly and happy to have some company on their nighttime journeys.
You might frown at this, but the boys were teenagers, and teenagers are allowed to believe that their world is safe and that most adults are good.
Except that, of the three boys who left for Baguio, only one came back home safe and alive.
The boys were on their way home from Baguio on the evening of August 16 when the truck driver they hitched with had a change of plan and dropped them off in Rosales, Pangasinan. A, the oldest of the three boys, said he needed to rest for a bit, but Joshua and his other friend, 15-year-old Julius, were eager to get home. They kept walking to find another truck to hitch a ride on, leaving A behind. A eventually managed to get on another truck and made his way home, thinking that Joshua and Julius got home long before he did.
Except that they didn't.
In the wee hours of August 17, a group of Rosales policemen claimed to have shot dead a man on a motorbike who failed to stop at a checkpoint and shot at them when they chased him. They identified him as Joshua and said that he was known as a member of a gang of burglars. They said the tattoo on his hand identified him as a member of that gang. They also said that they found a sachet of shabu (methamphetamine) on him.
In the wee hours of August 17, just hours over a year to the day after Kian, another 17-year-old boy, was killed by policemen in Caloocan, Joshua was gunned down by a gang of Rosales policemen. No one knows how they preyed on Joshua and Julius, what happened in the hours between the two boys walking away from their friend to when Joshua was shot dead. All we know is that these men and their superiors then had the gall to make up obvious lies about an innocent teenager who made the mistake of believing that he lived in a safe world.
Kristine and the rest of Joshua's family, as well as his friends, had to fight to keep the lies from destroying what was true about Joshua. And the truth was that he was just your typical teenager, a decent child whose only addiction was Dota 2 and who couldn't ride a motorbike, much less afford one.
Julius's family and friends are still waiting for him to come home.