For an administration obsessed with the culture of death—or more precisely with the culture of killing—there is no shortage of images or events to capture or reflect its true nature.
There is that Pieta-like scene last July, the definitive photograph which was taken by Inquirer photojournalist Raffy Lerma: A grieving Jennifer Olaires cradling her dead husband, the pedicab driver and alleged drug pusher Michael Siaron, after he is shot by unidentified motorcycle-riding men.
There is the horrifying abduction and same-day strangling, inside national police headquarters, of South Korean businessman and long-time Philippine resident Jee Ick-joo. He was killed in October but the news broke only in January.
Now, thanks to the report of a Senate joint-committee inquiry, we are reminded that there is also that absurd prison nightmare in a Leyte sub-provincial jail last November: Two detainees are supposedly roused in the wee hours of the morning to be served unnecessary search warrants, and reportedly shoot it out with the police. They end up dead.
In fact, they were executed. The Senate committees on public order and on justice have released a report which finds that Albuera, Leyte mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. (his cellmate Raul Yap was also killed) was the target of an elaborate scheme to silence him, by “individuals who wanted their participation [in an illegal drugs syndicate] concealed.” Those participants were officers and men of the Region 8 office of the Philippine National Police’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, led by their director, Supt. Marvin Marcos.
The report makes for chilling reading. Three excerpts:
“The Joint Committee has reached the conclusion that the killing of Mayor Espinosa was premeditated and with abuse of authority on the part of the operatives of CIDG-8.”
“What is more appalling was the fact that the jail guards as well as the PNP personnel, assigned to ensure the safety of Mayor Espinosa, were disarmed and made to kneel down and face the wall for the entire duration of the operation even after Mayor Espinosa and Yap were killed.”
“Based on the autopsy report, all four points of entry were in front of the body of the victim, except for one, which had an upward trajectory.”
This is not the first time a definite and damning conclusion was reached by government officials investigating the suspicious deaths. Last December, the National Bureau of Investigation found that the incident was “a rubout. Our findings show there was no shootout between Mayor Espinosa and the policemen.” The NBI spokesperson added: “the killing was premeditated and the victim was defenseless when he was killed…. It is patently clear that the acts of CIDG-8 operatives showed a community of purpose or an implied conspiracy.”
To the NBI conclusion last December and to the Senate finding this week, the President had the same answer: He didn’t care.
On Monday, he said: “I support the police and I will believe the police rather than other people. I do not care (about the report). I will insist on the truthfulness of the police, period. And I will defend them.”
As we said, this entire episode is emblematic of the Duterte administration, of its so-called war on drugs. (Espinosa and his son Kerwin—the latter now in custody—are supposed to be involved in a major drug enterprise.) There is the same tough talk. The same get-them-at-all-costs attitude. The same disdain for due process and the procedural constraints of law. The same corruption of the very police force sworn to protect all citizens. Not least, there is the same blanket statement enabling impunity: “I will insist on the truthfulness of the police”—even though the ballistics, the witnesses, the footage from closed-circuit television cameras, all prove that the policemen involved were lying.
President Duterte even revoked the PNP chief’s order relieving Marcos and his men. This raises the inevitable question: Why did the President choose to insist on the truthfulness of the policemen who carried out the killing, rather than that of the police chief who ordered them dismissed?