‘DON’T MALIGN THE DEAD’
The Barug Team Rama councilors marched into yesterday’s Cebu City Council session with black ribbon in their arms to mourn the death of Ermita Barangay Captain Felicisimo “Imok” Rupinta, as they raged against allegations by Mayor Tomas Osmeña linking the slain village chief to the illegal drugs trade.
“This is to show our mourning for our fellow comrade, Barangay Captain Imok Rupinta,” said Councilor Raymond Garcia.
But wearing the black armbands was also a protest, as the councilors came to the defense of Rupinta and condemned Osmeña for saying that he was happy for the people of Ermita that the barangay’s “biggest drug protector” is dead.
In a privilege speech yesterday, Councilor Philip Zafra, speaking on behalf of other Barug Team Rama councilors, took to task those who raise serious allegations against a man who could no longer defend himself.
“We don’t malign the reputation of a dead person,” he said.
“Mr. Chair, it is very unfair, uncalled for and highly condemnable to name Captain Imok as a drug protector even in his death. If only he’s still alive right now, of course he could very well defend himself against this malicious accusation,” added Zafra, who sits in the city council as president of the Association of Barangay Councils in Cebu City.
Although he didn’t specify any name, he was clearly referring to Osmeña, who said on Monday that the death of Rupinta would be an opportunity for the city and other law enforcement agencies to eradicate illegal drugs in Barangay Ermita.
But it was not the first time Osmeña labeled Rupinta a drug protector since it was a claim he repeatedly hurled against the barangay captain when the latter was still alive — an allegation repeatedly denied by Rupinta.
Zafra said Rupinta worked hard to cleanse his barangay from all sorts of criminality, especially illegal drugs.
“At least we in the barangays, who with limited resources and capabilities to handle things owing to the insurmountable tasks that we are facing ahead to where the real battle is, are fighting criminality, especially drugs, head on. We put our lives in the line of duty — all for our passion (for) public service,” he said.
He pointed out that Rupinta’s ambush-slay was no ordinary case as it happened after the barangay captain was buffeted with several issues and controversies — including his posting of “drug-free” tarpaulins in the barangay, the removal of barangay outposts on the order of the mayor, and his suspension last February along with all the other officials of his barangay.
After his speech, the Cebu City Council approved in mass motion the four resolutions proposed by Zafra, making the whole council coauthors of the measures.
The first resolution extended the city council’s “sincerest and heartfelt” condolences to the bereaved family and residents of Barangay Ermita on the untimely death of Rupinta.
The second measure was to “condemn to the highest degree the senseless and brutal murder” of Rupinta.
The third resolution was to request various law enforcement agencies or units concerned such as the Philippine National Police (PNP), Criminal
Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to create a task force that will look deeper into the murder of the barangay captain.
The last measure was to authorize the council secretariat to give copies of the resolutions and Zafra’s privilege speech to the family of Rupinta, the Regional Police Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7), CIDG-7 and NBI-7.
Councilor Garcia later proposed a corollary motion to “condemn in strongest terms” Osmeña’s pronouncement that he was “happy” with the death of Rupinta.
But unlike Zafra’s resolutions which were supported by the entire council, some councilors allied with the mayor abstained from approving Garcia’s resolution.
Those who abstained were Councilors Margarita Osmeña (the mayor’s wife), Joy Young, Jerry Guardo, Eugenio Gabuya Jr., Sisinio Andales and Alvin Arcilla.
On the other hand, those who supported the resolution were Councilors Zafra, Garcia, Joel Garganera, Pastor Alcover Jr., Eduardo Rama Jr., Jocelyn Pesquera, Jose Daluz III and Dave Tumulak.
Tumulak, who is identified with the Bando Osmeña-Pundok Kauswagan (BO-PK) party, did not vote with his colleagues this time.
He also wore a black ribbon, which was put in his arm personally by Councilor Garcia after the latter offered to give it to him.
The BO-PK councilors did not wear the black ribbons.
‘Political character assassination’
Osmeña, meanwhile, was unperturbed by the rebuke from the Barug Team Rama councilors, and instead repeated his allegations against the murdered village chief, saying that he anticipated a power struggle among drug dealers in Barangay Ermita now that Rupinta is dead.
Osmeña said there will be competition over who will take over the “drug business, extortion of the vendors and protection of the gamblers” in the barangay.
He said this is the time when the police should come in to ensure that none of these would happen again in the barangay.
“What happens to Imok (Rupinta) is not my concern. What happens to Team Rama is not my concern. What happens to the people of Ermita, that is my concern,” he said.
According to the mayor, a number of drug lords have prospered in Ermita and more are joining them.
It is not acceptable, he said, that the illegal activities present in the village will continue. He said he will no longer allow it to happen.
Osmeña said the allegations by Barug Team Rama linking him to Rupinta’s murder was nothing but “political character assassination.”
They are clearly politicizing the event, he said.
He said Barug Team Rama was “clearly politicizing” Rupinta’s death and recommended that they should invite House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to visit the wake of Rupinta.
“This is their way of politicizing the event. So let’s politicize it. Why don’t they invite Alvarez to come here because PDP-Laban lost their biggest ally in the death of Imok Rupinta,” he said.
CHR sets dialogue
Meanwhile, Commission on Human Rights in Central Visayas (CHR-7) special investigator Leo Villarino said they have decided to hold on December 4 their dialogue with the officials of the Association of Barangay Councils (ABC) in Cebu City to tackle issues on the implementation of Ermita’s anti-drug shame campaign, which was initiated by Rupinta.
Last October, Rupinta led a group of barangay officials in posting tarpaulins which read, “this house is a drug-free home” on more than 200 houses in their barangay, as part of their anti-illegal drug campaign.
The reverse shame campaign was however halted by Rupinta after the CHR said it was discriminatory and violated the rights of the barangay’s residence, as it would create a presumption that those left out in the posting of the signages were involved in illegal drugs.
On November 23, Rupinta was heading home with his common-law wife, Jocelyn Mendoza, when he was waylaid and killed in Barangay Tayud, Liloan town. Mendoza survived the incident.
The following night, police arrested one of the alleged suspects of the crime, Jimmy Largo, an ex-convict who is now facing charges of murder, attempted murder, and illegal possessions of firearms, explosives and dangerous drugs and illegal use of dangerous drugs.
Villarino stressed the CHR-7 could not dictate or set standard for the implementation of anti-illegal drug activities in barangays since the barangay councils are under the supervision of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG).
“We can only recommend what should be avoided to make sure that their actions do not violate human rights,” he added.
Villarino said CHR-7 is also monitoring the investigation into Rupinta’s death and assured Rupinta’s family that the agency is willing to give them assistance if they seek their help.
Police find second suspect
Meanwhile, investigators from PRO-7 have identified another alleged gunman in the killing of Rupinta.
However, “we will just (keep mum on the identity of the suspect) so we will not preempt the operation,” said Chief Supt. Jose Mario Espino, PRO-7 director, on Tuesday.
Espino said another suspect, who was identified by their witnesses, is still in Cebu City .
Espino also said that other witnesses have surfaced to testify against Largo.
Largo was positively identified by Mendoza as one of her common-law husband’s alleged assailants.
“We have witnesses based on the investigators that will pinpoint that Rupinta was being followed by Largo,” Espino said.
Espino also slammed Largo’s claim that he was just a fall guy, saying that there were inconsistencies in the latter’s “stories.”
Espino said Largo even insinuated that he knew the mastermind but later changed his story.
“But it will not weaken our case against him (Largo),” Espino said. /With Futch Anthony Inso and Nestle L. Semilla
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