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Murders unabated

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Editorial

Murders unabated

/ 05:18 AM July 22, 2017

The murders continue unabated. They may no longer command headlines, displaced from the front pages by the war in Marawi, the question of martial law and other political developments, but the bodies are still piling up, in an environment of impunity that appears to have made the killing of ordinary citizens the new normal.

Last Tuesday at 5 p.m. in Taytay, the assistant provincial prosecutor of Rizal was gunned down by two men riding a motorcycle. Assistant Prosecutor Maria Ronatay, 46, who was driving her car on her way home, died from multiple gunshot wounds; the police eventually recovered nine bullet shells from the crime scene. A report in this paper quoted Rizal provincial prosecutor Raymond Jonathan Lledo as saying that Ronatay, who had been an assistant prosecutor since 2005, was not handling any “sensitive” case or one related to illegal drugs, which could explain the killing. “[But] nobody, whatever she did or did not do, deserved this,” Lledo said.

Who does? Certainly not another Rizal resident like Barangay San Gabriel Chair Arvin Zapanta, who was shot dead while standing at a day care center just two days before Ronatay’s killing. The alleged assailants were two men wearing helmets aboard a motorcycle.

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The town’s police chief took pains to say that Zapanta was not on the police drug watch list. Still, he was targeted, in the same way Francisco Guevarra of Barangay 106 in Caloocan was targeted, again by motorcycle-riding gunmen, on the afternoon of July 12, or four days before Zapanta’s shooting. Guevarra was heading home, but never made it there. The authorities said Guevarra was likewise not on the drug watch list, but had earlier approached the police to “clear his name” after hearing that he was on the list. The effort proved futile, as it turned out. According to the police, Guevarra’s death made him the fourth barangay chair in Caloocan to be gunned down by vigilantes since January. All these cases remain unsolved.

Elsewhere, the picture is as disturbing. In Quezon City, for instance, the QC Police District has declared 19—or 13 percent—of the city’s 142 barangays “drug-cleared.” But that success apparently came at a price: The number of murder cases in the city has spiked by a startling 90 percent. From July 2016 to June 2017, 402 cases were recorded, as against 211 in the previous period. The 191 cases represented a 90.52-percent increase—a statistic that Chief Supt. Guillermo Eleazar, the district director, had to grudgingly acknowledge while talking about the supposedly successful drug campaign: “In terms of murder … it should be stopped and we have to exert efforts to solve the cases,” he said.

The effort needs to be extensive because, if Quezon City is to serve as a gauge of police success in resolving cases, then the situation appears to be dismal. As this paper has also reported, cases of “deaths under investigation” in the city reached more than 360 starting July 2016, and of these cases, only a measly 8 percent were declared solved. Extrapolate from that—how many of the national figure of 8,200 homicide cases under investigation, according to official police records, have seen some progress?

The largely unchecked rash of violence has earned the Philippines a dubious distinction: the second least peaceful country in the Asia-Pacific, next only to North Korea, according to the Global Peace Index. Malacañang has dismissed that finding outright: “What we know from local polls is that 75 percent of Filipinos are happy with the Duterte administration’s performance,” Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said.

Abella made no mention of another finding by a local poll—that, despite their general support for the war on drugs, 8 out of 10 Filipinos fear that they, or their loved ones, could fall victim to the extrajudicial killings blighting the country.

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