HAT were you up to when you were 14? You probably spent hours discovering what music you liked, maybe even had a few band posters up on your room’s walls. Perhaps you had found a secondhand shop you liked to visit each week, for the paperbacks and comics you spent more time reading than your schoolbooks. You may have had your eye on a boy or girl you didn’t know what to say to, most of the time. It’s possible you worried too much about what other people thought.
At 14, Reynaldo de Guzman worried about different things. He ran errands for his family’s meals or so he could have some money when he went to school. He was already behind by a few years, the notuncommon lot of those who learn to hustle young, because that often means the difference between having enough for the day and going to bed hungry. Which is not to say that Reynaldo led a miserable life. It was hard, but the people who knew Reynaldo, the people who called him Kulot, remember him as someone who was always happy to help.
Three weeks ago, Reynaldo and another boy from the same neighborhood, Carl Angelo Arnaiz, went out for a latenight errand. What sort of errand, exactly, no one knows for certain. As far as Carl’s parents knew, the 19 yearold just wanted to get a snack. They found him in a morgue 10 days later, with four gunshot wounds in his chest and a fifth in his right arm.
Reynaldo’s parents had to wait one week more. He was found a long way from home, his face hidden by the tape coiled around his head, his body pierced by 30 stab wounds. No one knows who killed him or why. In a way, that’s an improvement over what happened right after the deaths of Carl and another boy, Kian de los Santos, came to light. Kian, 17, had not yet been buried when a police official claimed that the boy had made as much as P18,000 a day selling drugs, while a government prosecutor said he found it “too farfetched” that Kian was innocent. In Carl’s case, the police told his parents that their boy had robbed a taxi driver at gunpoint, tried to flee, and then fired at the officers who were chasing him. So they shot him.
Whoever killed him, Kulot’s father has vowed: your children and grandchildren will know what you did to my son.
But there’s no guarantee we’ll ever find out who was responsible. We’ve seen the likes of this before. A decade ago, children were among the hundreds who died in “unresolved killings” in Davao City and other parts of the country. Had their names been on the lists of suspected felons that barangay and police officers allegedly compiled? No one knows for sure, because the Philippine National Police and agencies like the Commission on Human Rights and Office of the Ombudsman had failed to sustain any investigation. Human Rights Watch pointed this out in April 2009.
Eight years later, the questions live on.
In some ways, we are better off. Rappler, quoting PNP statistics, reported last month that in the first year of the Duterte presidency, the total number of crimes dropped by nearly 10 percent. There were 61,409 fewer crimes in Duterte’s first year, compared with the last year the Aquino administration held office. Theft was down 38