112 DEAD IN 6 MONTHS
Almost every day, one life is snuffed in gun violence in Cebu, as blood continues to be spilled on its alleys and streets.
In a tally made by Cebu Daily News, at least 112 persons were killed in shooting incidents in Cebu over the last six months.
Of the number, 92 individuals were gunned down by still unknown assailants — many of whom were masked men on board motorcycles — while the rest of the fatalities perished during police operations from February to August 2, 2018, or a total of 183 days.
This means that on the average, one person was getting killed in Cebu every one-and-a half-days or about every 38 hours over the last six months.
Majority of these killings remain unsolved.
Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma yesterday appealed to authorities to seriously address the series of killings and for the public to reject the culture of impunity that has enveloped Cebu and other parts of the country.
“What is happening now is very sad and unfortunate. It’s as if life no longer has any value,” the prelate said in an interview after he celerated Mass at the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral on Sunday.
“I appeal for an end of this culture of impunity. It brings sadness and tears to the families of the victims and it does not give a good picture of our country,” he added.
Among those killed were eight policemen and a policewoman — three of them were gunned in police operations while the rest were murdered by unknown assailants.
Also in the kill list were an officer of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in Central Visayas, three barangay captains, a former village chief, two councilors, four councilmen, and Ronda town Vice Mayor Jonnah John Ungab.
Based on CDN’s tally, Cebu City has the most number of persons killed by unknown assailants since February 2018 with 27, followed by Lapu-Lapu City (24), Mandaue City (12), Talisay City (5), Minglanilla (5), Balamban (4), Carcar City (2), Barili (2), and Liloan (2).
At least one person was killed each in Danao City, Dalaguete, San Fernando, City of Naga, Alcantara, Alegria, Toledo, Tabuelan, and Borbon.
In police operations, Cebu City still has the most number of deaths at six, followed by Talisay City (4), Mandaue City (4), Minglanilla (2), Lapu Lapu City (2), Dalaguete (1), and Carmen (1).
Six of the fatalities were women while the rest were male.
Among those killed were four minors, including four-year-old Bladen Skyler Abatayo, who was hit by a stray bullet during a botched police operation in Barangay Ermita, Cebu City last July 10.
On one hand, at least 12 persons, including Mayor Vicente Loot of Daanbantayan town, north Cebu; businessman Wellington Lim; PO3 Raymund Zozobrado, and SPO2 Armando Lozano survived the shooting attacks in Cebu.
Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña has surmised that vigilantes with police protection are behind the series of killings — an allegation vehemently denied by police officials in Cebu.
“There are people here with police protection who are going around killing people. I’m not a great detective but that’s what it smells like,” he said in a recent interview.
Osmeña also lashed out at officials of the Central Visayas police for failing to stop the killings as well as unmasking the perpetrators behind the murders.
He also slammed the head of the regional police for purportedly twisting facts to protect a policeman and an anti-crime volunteer who were accused of trying to ambush Barangay Tejero Councilman Jessielou Cadungog last July 30.
Two weeks ago, Osmeña received a text message from an anonymous sender who cautioned him to be careful as there were allegedly plans to assassinate him and Cadungog.
More than his life, Osmeña said the safety of the Cebuanos is his primary concern.
“It’s alarming, very alarming. If there was only one or two incidents (killings), that’s normal. But when you see there’s many, and there’s a pattern, my conclusion is that the criminals now are not afraid,” he said.
Value of human life
Lawyer Arvin Odron, director of the Commission on Human Rights in Central Visayas (CHR-7), said human life seemed to be very cheap nowadays.
“I absolutely agree that there is a significant increase in the incidents of extralegal killings particularly in Metro Cebu, and all of these boil down to a single reason: man’s natural inclination to disrespect human rights and the rule of law,” he told CDN on Sunday.
“Seeing that our law enforcement officers no longer observe the rule of law, individuals likewise tend to take the law into their own hands. Hence, we have this rising incidents of extralegal killings. Nobody now dares to respect the right of all human persons to life and blatantly disregard the rule of law,” he added.
Under human rights’ standards, Odron said whoever takes the life of any person has to be held accountable.
“Many government officials view human rights as a hindrance to peace and security. But a sustained campaign on human rights is seen as a way to strengthen human rights,” he said.
Odron said killing criminals will not address lawlessness in any locality.
“Let it be noted that it is not for us to take the natural rights of a person to life, not even the government, even in the exercise of its inherent police power, which is simply to regulate the enjoyment of human rights for the common good,” he said.
To date, the commission has investigated at least 70 cases of alleged extrajudicial killings (EJK) in the region.
Some were requested by walk-in complainants while the rest were investigated motu proprio or without a formal request from any party.
Of the cases investigated by CHR-7, at least six, which involved either policemen or operatives of the PDEA, were elevated to the Office of the Ombudsman.
But the cases remain pending at the anti-graft office.
The low number of complainants purportedly indicated that the families of many EJK victims have lost hope of ever getting the perpetrators to answer for their crimes, dismayed by the lack of progress in the investigation of pending cases.
CHR-7 chief investigator Leo Villarino said he understood the public’s sentiment on the slow pace of justice in the Philippines, but cautioned people against taking the law into their own hands.
“The wheels of justice grind slowly. But does killing suspected criminals speed up the pace of justice in our country? In fact, when we kill a criminal, are we not committing another crime? How can you be better off than a criminal?” he asked.
“People have been impatient, and the product of this impatience is the spate of killings. But will these killings solve the cases of illegal drugs? We have yet to see whether killing suspected criminals will be the solution to the drug problem,” he added.
The Philippine National Police, he said, must always abide by the law in dealing with criminal suspects.
“Even if they are criminals, they should be given the opportunity to defend themselves in court. Who knows they will be cleared of the accusations. That’s better than seeing them dead without even having the opportunity to prove their innocence,” said Villarino.
Law enforcers’ data
Based on records of Cebu’s law enforcement units released last June, at least 195 drug suspects in the Central Visayas region were killed in alleged shootouts with law enforcers since July 2016, when President Rodrigo Duterte launched the relentless war against drugs.
At least 213 others were gunned down by still unknown assailants — all in a span of two years.
On the other hand, at least 13,050 drug suspects were arrested in the region, while some 108,742 drug users and pushers surrendered to authorities at the onset of Oplan Tokhang (toktok hangyo), a police door-to-door anti-drug campaign where suspects are asked to surrender and sign documents renouncing their involvement in illegal drugs, either as a user or a peddler.
Law enforcement agencies in the region seized a total of 100,148 grams of shabu valued at P801.2 million based on the street price of P8,000 per gram.
Since then, the Central Visayas’ police has refused to release figures about its war on drugs to the media.
Chief Supt. Debold Sinas, the director of the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7), said journalists who wanted to secure data from them must first ask the permission of its officials in Camp Crame.
The same policy was also applied to CHR-7, which has vainly been seeking records of the police’s anti-drug operations in the region.
Third in killings
A study released by the Ateneo de Manila University and De La Salle University showed that at least 5,021 drug suspects were killed in police operations and unknown assailants across the country in the first 16 months of President Duterte.
Metro Manila was in the top hotspot, accounting for 2,000 deaths; followed by Bulacan, at 644; and Cebu, with 383.
The same report found that majority of the victims of the bloody drug war were male and marginalized, such as tricycle drivers, construction workers, vendors, and garbage collectors.
‘Give us time’
Supt. Reyman Tolentin, spokesperson of the PRO-7, assured the public they were not sleeping on their jobs and that investigators are closely investigating all murders in Cebu.
“Please give us time. We can’t solve the killings overnight. Every killing has its own particular circumstances. We will try to look into all the angles as we ask our investigators to dig deeper into each case,” he said.
Tolentin believed that members of illegal drug syndicates are now going against each other since the government made life difficult for them through its relentless war on drugs.
While it was a “good” sign for the police, he said PRO-7 was not tolerating the killings and had directed police units to enhance street visibility and intensify their campaign against loose firearms.
Tolentin stressed the public has no reason to be alarmed since there were no links to connect these murders to each other.
“There are no vigilantes so to speak, and we should stop speculating,” he said. /WITH ZENA MAGNO AND GERARD VINCENT FRANCISCO, USJ-R Journalism Intern
Disclaimer: The comments uploaded on this site do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of management and owner of Cebudailynews. We reserve the right to exclude comments that we deem to be inconsistent with our editorial standards.