THE RISE OF VIGILANTE KILLINGS
Four suspected drug pushers are dead. Gunned down by unknown masked assailants in separate incidents in Metro Cebu, in just twenty four hours.
Another person, also a suspected drug peddler, escaped a slay try, again by unknown assailants, and is now in critical condition at a government-owned hospital.
Four of the victims were listed on the police’s drug watch list, sounding an alarm bell on some concerned citizens and officials over the increasing number of what might look like the rise of vigilantism in Cebu City and province.
The four victims were among the 10 persons who had been killed by unknown assailants in the cities of Cebu (4), Lapu-Lapu (2) Danao (2) and Mandaue (1) and in Consolacion town (1) over the last week or since July 20, records compiled by Cebu Daily News showed.
Chief Supt. Noli Taliño, director of the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7), however, said he could not say yet if vigilantes are starting to operate in Cebu.
Taliño said he has immediately instructed all concerned police offices to conduct an investigation and identify the perpetrators.
“We need to look at the circumstances behind these spate of killings. If we could establish a pattern on how the victims were killed, then we could say that one group killed them all,” he said in an interview yesterday.
One of the four victims was Ringo Rodrigo, a suspected drug pusher slain in Consolacion on Thursday. Found on his pant’s pocket was a note written on a carboard that said, “Traydor, sige’g sumbong sa pulis.” (A traitor who was always snitching to the police.)
Taliño said the victims might have been killed by cohorts in the illegal drugs trade, but it’s also possible that vigilantes finished them off.
“There may be peace-loving citizens who could no longer take the presence of people who continue to peddle illegal drugs. That’s why we need to investigate it,” he said.
Last July 21, Taliño received a text message from a group that volunteered to help the police kill those into illegal drugs. The group did not identify itself, he said.
Taliño appealed to the group and to those who want to take the law into their own hands to let justice take its course.
“Vigilantism is against the law. Why don’t you let policemen do their thing? Just report it to us and we will conduct legitimate operations against them (drug lords and pushers),” the former Special Action Force chief said.
Cebu City Councilor David Tumulak, chairman of the council’s committee on peace and order, considered the spate of killings “alarming.”
“I’m afraid that innocent people will get killed. I hope (the) rule of law (will still prevail),” he told CDN.
On the other hand, anti-illegal drugs operations by the police in Central Visayas over the past 27 days had resulted to the death of at least 35 suspected drug pushers.
Of these incidents, eight were being investigated by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in Central Visayas as possible cases of vigilante-style killings and not as a result of shootouts with policemen.
Last July 15, CHR-7 received a directive from lawyer Diana De Leon of the Human Rights Protection Office in Manila, mandating the regional office to conduct a probe on what could be cases of summary executions.
In 2004 to 2006, vigilante-style killings were reported almost daily in local and national papers. Newspaper reports counted 168 victims. No suspect had been brought to court for lack of witnesses.
In those years, Mayor Tomas Osmeña had offered a cash reward of P20,000 to policemen for every criminal they would “permanently disable and neutralize.”
He also formed the Hunter Team, an elite police unit whose task was to go after crime suspects in response to the series of robbery-killings that hit the city. Despite his strong stance against crimes, Osmeña denied having a hand in the killings.
In the latter part of 2006, the executions died down as Cebu prepared for the hosting of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit.
The dead men
The scenes in 2004, however, are starting to recur as President Rodrigo Duterte launched an intensified campaign against crimes, particularly on illegal drugs.
On Wednesday, at about 9 a.m., the body of a man later identified as Roy Duran was found in the mountain barangay of Ugis in Danao City.
Duran, 41, was a native of Tuburan town in northwest Cebu but was temporarily staying in his daughter’s house in Danao City. He suffered a gunshot wound on his head.
PO2 Ronald Gomez of the Danao City police believed Duran was just thrown in the area because no one saw the killing or heard gunshots fired. Duran had no criminal record in the police station but investigators are looking deeper into the case.
At 8:40 p.m. Wednesday, an unidentified man, whose face was covered with a handkerchief, shot alleged drug peddler Erwin Quijano inside the latter’s residence in Barangay Labangon, Cebu City.
A witness said the assailant entered Quijano’s house and immediately shot the victim who was leaning on a table to take a nap.
Quijano, 40, suffered two gunshot wounds on the head. He was brought to Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center where he is now in critical condition.
According to PO1 Haidee Cobero of the Labangon police, they requested Quijano to cooperate with them during their Oplan Tohang campaign, but the victim allegedly refused to surrender.
PO3 Nicolo Gonzales, investigator of the Cebu City Police Office’s homicide division, said Quijano was number 12 on the drugs watch list of the Labangon Police Station.
Two hours after Quijano was shot, Dario Paez, a small-time lending investor, was gunned down by two unknown men at Tabada Street in Barangay Mambaling, Cebu City.
Residents in the area said they heard multiple bursts of gunfire and saw Paez hit the ground with several gunshot wounds on the body and head. The assailants, they said, immediately fled on board a motorcycle.
PO3 Gonzales said Paez, a self-confessed drug pusher, voluntarily surrendered to the Mambaling Police Station in the conduct of the Operation Tokhang last July 2.
Past midnight, an unknown assailant shot dead Edwin Casinillo outside his residence in Barangay Lorega-San Miguel, Cebu City.
While lying on the ground, Casinillo reportedly shouted for help but his brother, who heard him, remained inside their house for fear that the assailant might also shot him.
Casinillo, also a suspected drug pusher, died of multiple gunshot wounds on his body and head. According to witnesses, the assailant fled on board a motorcycle.
Police recovered empty shells of .45-caliber pistol in all three crime scenes in Cebu City on Wednesday evening.
At around 9 a.m. Thursday, Ringo Rodrigo was gunned down while driving his motorcycle in Barangay Cansaga, Consolacion town.
Witnesses said the suspects, who were on board another motorcycle, wore bonnets to cover their faces. Recovered from the crime scene were empty shells of 9 mm caliber pistol.
Chief Insp. Wilson Abot of the Consolacion Police said Rodrigo was a drug user and an errand boy in their place.
“He was asked by some users to buy drugs. His mother would have wanted him arrested, but when we went after him, he eluded arrest,” he said.
Tumulak said he would ask the Cebu City Council to pass a resolution requesting the Armed Forces of the Philippines to assign some of its soldiers on the streets to help policemen run after criminals.
“I’m afraid people will take advantage of the situation, go after their enemies and make it appear that vigilantes killed those they hate,” he said.
Consolacion Mayor Teresa Alegado said she too was worried about the series of killings.
“Personally, I am also worried. I don’t want this to continue. The people behind this should just surrender so that justice can be brought to them. Bisan unsa pa ka ngil-ad sa tawo, duna gihapon na’y kalag (No matter how bad a person may be, he still has a soul),” she told CDN in a phone interview yesterday.
Alegado, who was in Aklan yesterday, said she was informed about another incident of killing in her town yesterday.
She said that while killings that bore signs of summary executions were not appreciated, it is being tolerated by the national agencies.
“Us in the local government, as much as possible, if there are drug- or crime-related incidents, we should have it put under investigation so that justice can be given,” she said. /with reports from Reporters Nestle Semilla and Santino Bonachita, Correspondent Rene Alima and UP Cebu Intern Morexette Marie B. Erram
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