A BLOODY YEAR

With 253 deaths due to shoot­ing in­ci­dents, 2018 was def­i­nitely a bloody and chaotic year

Cebu Daily News - - FRONT PAGE - by Ador Vin­cent Mayol WRIT­ING ED­I­TOR

It was a year marked by blood­bath. Al­most ev­ery day, a life was lost in gun vi­o­lence in Cebu as blood was spilled on the al­leys and streets of the is­land all year round.

In a tally made by CEBU DAILY NEWS, at least 253 per­sons were killed in shoot­ing in­ci­dents in Cebu from Fe­bru­ary 17 to De­cem­ber 15, 2018.

Of the num­ber, 184 in­di­vid­u­als were gunned down by still un­known as­sailants — many of whom were masked men on board mo­tor­cy­cles — while

‘ We have a lot of ques­tions with few an­swers about these killings which we could not jus­tify nor ’ un­der­stand. — Cebu Arch­bishop Jose Palma

the rest of the fa­tal­i­ties per­ished dur­ing po­lice op­er­a­tions.

Ma­jor­ity of these killings re­main un­solved.

Cul­ture of vi­o­lence

Cebu Arch­bishop Jose Palma re­peat­edly ap­pealed for an end in the spate of mur­ders as bod­ies piled up.

Con­cerned about the num­ber of deaths, the 68year-old prelate called on the peo­ple to wake up and fight the cul­ture of vi­o­lence that has en­veloped Cebu and other parts of the coun­try.

“We’re not happy with these deaths. We feel sad. It has reached a level wherein re­spect for hu­man life is lost, while the cul­ture of im­punity reigns,” he said in an in­ter­view.

“Who­ever is do­ing it, ei­ther con­nected to the il­le­gal drugs trade or for what­ever rea­son, they should know that no one (ex­cept God) has the right to take some­one else’s life. We know that this is not the Chris­tian way,” he added.

Palma, the chief shep­herd of the largest arch­dio­cese in the coun­try with close to four mil­lion lay Catholics and about 600 priests — both dioce­san and re­li­gious, said the Church feels for fam­i­lies of the vic­tims who suf­fer the loss of their beloved.

“We have a lot of ques­tions with few an­swers about these killings which we could not jus­tify nor un­der­stand,” he said.

Last Au­gust, the prelate is­sued an Ora­tio Im­per­ata or a manda­tory prayer, which has been used in all Masses in the arch­dio­cese to “end the spate of killings in Cebu.”

Prom­i­nent vic­tims

Among those killed were Ronda town Mayor Mar­i­ano Blanco III, Ronda Vice Mayor Jon­nah John Ungab, Philip­pine Drug En­force­ment Agency in Cen­tral Visayas of­fi­cer Earl Ral­los, 14 po­lice­men, three barangay cap­tains, a for­mer vil­lage chief, two coun­cilors, and seven coun­cil­men.

Four mi­nors also lost their lives, in­clud­ing 4-yearold 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, some tar­gets, in­clud­ing Mayor Vi­cente Loot of Daan­ban­tayan town, north Cebu; busi- ness­man Welling­ton Lim; PO3 Ray­mund Zo­zo­brado, and SPO2 Ar­mando Lozano sur­vived the shoot­ing at­tacks in Cebu.

Vig­i­lantes

Cebu City Mayor To­mas Os­meña ear­lier sur­mised that vig­i­lantes with po­lice pro­tec­tion are be­hind the se­ries of killings — an al­le­ga­tion 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 an ear­lier 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.

No re­spect to life

Lawyer Arvin Odron, di­rec­tor of the Com­mis­sion on Hu­man Rights in Cen­tral Visayas (CHR-7), said hu­man life seemed to be very cheap at present.

“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.

“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.

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.

Slow pace of jus­tice

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.

War on drugs

Based on the records of Cebu’s law en­force­ment units re­leased in De­cem­ber, at least 195 drug sus­pects in Cen­tral Visayas were killed in al­leged shootouts with law en­forcers since July 2016 when Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte launched a 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.

Chief Supt. De­bold Si­nas, the di­rec­tor of the Po­lice Re­gional Of­fice in Cen­tral Visayas (PRO-7), as­sured the pub­lic they were not sleep­ing on their jobs and that in­ves­ti­ga­tors are closely in­ves­ti­gat­ing all mur­ders in Cebu.

“We don’t tol­er­ate ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings. What we do were le­git­i­mate op­er­a­tions wherein the tar­gets put the lives of our of­fi­cers in dan­ger. And we don’t hide any­thing. We’re trans­par­ent,” he said. /WITH NEST LE SEMILLA, ZENA MAGTO AND GER­ARD VIN­CENT FRAN­CISCO

/CDN FILE PHOTOS

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