HOW MUCH IS A LIFE WORTH?
Families of the five slain men cry for justice, all of whom suspected their kin were victims of extrajudicial killing
For six hours daily, Christopher Tangag worked at a calll center firm in Cebu City to earn money for his family.
But the 23-year-old father of a nine-month-old boy knew his earnings were not enough, especially that he was just starting to build a family after he got married in December 2017.
Tangag, a resident of Barangay Basak-San Nicolas in Cebu City, decided to work as a part-time habal habal (motorcycle-for-hire) driver during his free time to earn more. He even sold peanut butter to neighbors.
“Grabe kabuotan tong bataa. (He was a very good guy),” said Claudia Sato, a close friend of Tangag’s family who spoke on their behalf.
Tangag, the youngest of two siblings, was sitting by the roadside in front of their house at around 5 p.m. on Wednesday when another habal-habal driver, Antonio Belande, approached and told him that two passengers wanted to be taken to an apartment in Sitio Banawa, Barangay Guadalupe, Cebu City— just about seven kilometers away or a 20 minutes drive from their house.
The fare was for P100, one way. A return trip would also cost another P100 if he would wait for his passenger. He agreed.
An hour passed but Tangag didn’t return home. That P200 cost him his life.
“Nabalaka mi kay wala naman siya nibalik. Pwerte namong pangita niya nianang gabhiuna. Nakulbaan mi kay wala man gyud nauli. (We got worried because he did not return. We looked for him that night. We were afraid because he never came home),” Sato said in an interview.
Early morning on Thursday, they learned from the Facebook Live report of Cebu Daily News that Belande, who invited Tangag to transport a passenger, survived a salvage attempt along the TransCentral Highway in the mountain barangay of Malubog, Cebu City.
Since Tangag was last seen with Belande, Sato said they trembled in fear. Tangag’s wife immediately went to the crime scene.
“We were hoping that Christopher was safe,” Sato said.
But the reality could not be ignored. Tangag’s bloodied body was found sprawled on the ground. He had gunshot wounds on his forehead and neck.
He was among five people who were shot to death by still unknown assailants at past 3 a.m. on Thursday.
“Na shock gyud mi. Dili pa mi kadawat sa nahitabo. (We were shocked, and we still could not accept what happened to him),” Sato said.
She said Tangag, an Information Technology graduate of the Asian College of Technology, was never involved in the illegal drugs trade.
“He was unjustly killed,” Sato said.
The victim’s body was set to be transferred from the St. Peter’s Funeral Homes in Cebu City to their residence in Barangay Basak-San Nicolas.
Tangag’s parents begged off from issuing any statement on Friday, saying they were still trying to muster enough courage to face the reality.
Aside from Tangag, also found dead were Rolando Tayor, 29, a resident of Barangay Labangon; Leyster Abella, 26, of Barangay Calamba; Diover Van Sarijorjo, 22, ofBarangay Duljo-Fatima; and Carl Cabahug, 20, of Barangay Lorega— all in Cebu City.
Both Sarijorjo and Tayor were arrested and charged in 2017 for alleged possession of illegal drugs but were out on bail, said their respective families.
On the other hand, the families of Cabahug and Abella insisted the two were not involved in the illegal drugs trade.
The families of the five victims appealed for justice even if they have not made up their mind yet about seeking the assistance of the National Bureau of Investigation or the Commission on Human Rights.
The CHR-7 is looking into the killings on Thursday while the NBI expressed willingness to step in once they receive a complaint from the victims.
Tayor’s ‘brutal’ death
Tayor’s younger sister Jona believed policemen had a hand in the killing, especially that two of those who were supposed to have been killed managed to escape and narrated their ordeal in the hands of police operatives.
“Kalagot, kaguol ang among gibati. Grabe ang ilang pagkamatay. Nabungkag ang nawong sa akong igsoon. (Anger and sadness are what we feel. The manner in which they were killed was so brutal. The face of my brother was shattered),” she told Cebu Daily News.
Jona’s brother suffered gunshot wounds on the face, chest, stomach, and legs.
“Dili tawo ang nagbuhat ani. (The killing was not done by a human being),” she added.
Jona said that even if her brother had committed a crime, the police should have just arrested him.
“Unsa may gamit sa atong balaod? Kon nakasala, prisohon. Naa man tay proseso. Nadismaya gyud mi sa dagan sa atong pamalaod karon. Sa tinuod lang, wala na mi salig sa polis,”she said.
(What’s the use of our laws? If one commits a mistake, then put him in prison. We have a legal process to follow. We are extremely disappointed with how we run the system now. To be honest, we no longer trust our police).
She added: “Sa una, ang mga pulis man unta ang atong kadangpan sa kalisud pero karon dili na. Wala silay kalainan sa mga criminal. (Before, we go to the police in times of need. Now, that it is no longer the case. They are no different from criminals),” she added.
Local police authorities however vehemently denied their operatives were involved in the killings, saying it could be the handiwork of a drug syndicate. (see separate story)
Jona hoped that those behind the killing of her brother would be bothered by their conscience.
“Unta dili na ni mausab. Sundon nato ang balaod. Dili solusyon ang pagpatay. Karon, gusto mi og hustisya kay grabe kaayo ang ilang gibuhat,” she said.
(I hope what happened to my brother won’t happen to others. Let us follow the law. Killing people is not the right solution. Now, we want justice for my brother
because what they did was too much),” she said.
Both Abella and Tayor were picked up by men in civilian clothes along A. Lopez Street in Labangon Cebu City on Thursday evening. Witnesses said they were forced to board a van.
A grandmother’s loss
Abella’s grandmother Erlinda said it was unlikely that their family would seek the assistance of the NBI or CHR.
“Lami unta ikiha pero lisud kay wala mi kuwarta. (We want to file a complaint but we don’t have money),” she told Cebu Daily News.
Her grandson, a former bagger at a mall’s grocery store, was earning a living by repairing cellular phones at home before he was killed.
Erlinda said she was sure that her grandson was not a drug user but she was unsure whether or not he was selling prohibited drugs.
A friend of the victim, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Abella was peddling shabu and even had a contact, allegedly someone from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, who helped him get out of jail whenever he got arrested.
Erlinda lamented the manner with which her grandson was killed.
“Sakit kaayo nga gipatay nila og diretso. Kon nakabuhat man gani og sala, ipaagi nato sa legal nga pamaagi. (It’s so painful to think that they killed my grandson just like that. If he committed a crime, then we should go through the legal process),” she said.
Cabahug’s grieving mother
Cabahug’s mother Richelle said she last spoke to her son over dinner on Wednesday evening.
She said her son told her that he would go to Banawa, Cebu City but did not reveal what he was going to do there.
“Na-shock na lang ko sa nahitabo. (I was shocked to learn that he was killed),” Richelle said in an interview.
While losing her only son was hard to accept, the grieving mother said she has no plan to seek assistance from government agencies.
“Dili ko ganahan og samok. Dawaton na lang nako ang nahitabo. (I don’t want any hassle. I just have to accept what happened),” Richelle said.
Sarijorjo’s girlfriend Jessa admitted that her live-in partner was using illegal drugs.
She said Sarijorjo was arrested in 2017 for purportedly keeping packs of shabu.
Last Wednesday, Jessa said Sarijorjo told her about a “transaction” in Banawa, Cebu City but did not elaborate what it was all about.
Belande, a motorcycle-for-hire driver who survived the shooting incident, claimed he and another driver were picked up by six policemen, some of whom wore their uniforms, outside a mall and condominium while waiting for their passengers in Sitio Banawa, Barangay Guadalupe, Cebu City at around 5 p.m. on Wednesday.
He claimed that he and his companions were later blindfolded while their hands were tied with plastic handcuffs.
Hours later, at around 3 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 4, they were transported to a hilly portion of Cebu City and saw the others getting shot one after the other with the use of armalites.
Sensing he would be next, Belande — who had earlier managed to loosen the plastic handcuffs on his hands, said he ran as fast as he could, and rolled down the hills before he hid himself in between tall grasses.
Chief Supt. Debold Sinas, director of the Central Visayas police, however brushed aside Belande’s allegations, saying the police did not have a hand in the killing of the five persons in Barangay Malubog. /WITH REPORTS FROM FUTCH ANTHONY INSO
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