I had seen that look of terror on a woman’s face before; but it was only in movies – make believe – cheap Hollywood. It was never this real.
I returned home from hard work that afternoon. I went straight to the sofa to relax. After shooing off the dogs, I turned on the TV. And then I saw the news coverage of the recent killings in Malubog, Busay Hills. Five people were dead. There was a van riddled with bullet holes. TV media was there to cover the event when, quite unexpectedly, they recorded the precise moment of finding one survivor. She had plastic strap-ties still on her arms. She was climbing up the hill to get to the media people who arrived at the site. As she later recounted, she rolled down the hill when the shooting began.
She pretended to be dead. She was in a state of shock. But this turned into panic as soon as she saw uniformed policemen arrive. She tried to run away but the media people tried to calm her down. Her face was dirty, soil stuck to her skin that seemed wet from tears. The look of terror on her face, caught vividly on camera, told this story in a way that’s impossible to ignore and forget, unless one was heartless in that particular way, which seems to have become the norm with certain people.
As it turned out, there were two survivors: Sharmaine Puran and habal-habal driver, Antonio Bellande. The dead included Christopher Tangag who worked at a call center firm and moonlighted as a habal-habal driver to earn more money for his newly born child. His family claimed he had no connection to the drug trade. But whether or not they were involved in drugs, this was clearly a case of extra judicial killings. If the witness’ initial accounts are to be believed, the killings were perpetuated by policemen.
But now, the very lives of the witnesses have come to great risk. “To serve and protect” is the universal motto of police. But when they are the main suspects of murder, then the question becomes: Who will protect us from our protectors? Who will protect us from the police?
The Catholic Cebu Archdiocese is now giving protection to the witnesses. But this may not be enough unless local citizens take greater interest in this issue. It is an important case. It is the only case, thus far, where there are surviving witnesses to an incident of extra judicial killings purportedly done by policemen. It may be the only provable case of state sponsored terrorism. For that is really what is happening now. And we may as well ask what our political and civic leaders are doing to stem this problem. For they should be taken to account. We know that Mayor Tomas Osmeña has become some sort of target in all these. But what about Governor Hilario Davide? What is vice governor Agnes Magpale doing? Have they been scared into silence by state terror?
Unless we are stupid and heartless people we must really ask now how far and how long this state terror will continue. Can we come together as citizens to stop this? Cebu used to be a peaceful place. We used to feel safe here. Who ever is behind this? And how ever did they turn our city into something just like Davao?
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