WHEN CAGAYAN de Oro broadcast journalist James Licuanan was shot and seriously wounded a day after media workers nationwide marked the third anniversary of the Maguindanao massacre late last month, it was easy to decry the culture of impunity that has made of the Philippine media a merry killing field. But the observation may be self-serving. The fact is that not only journalists but also ordinary citizens have been victimized by various forms of criminality in what appears to be a general breakdown of law and order across the country.
The observation may seem sweeping, but we must remember that Licuanan himself was assaulted apparently for using his program, “Bombohanay Bigtime” on Bombo Radyo, in attacking crime syndicates, especially drug rings that he had claimed were operating with impunity in Cagayan de Oro. He had been receiving death threats through SMS, his relatives and friends said, but he chose to ignore them. Last Nov. 24 at 9 p.m., while he was walking home, two men on a motorcycle shot him.
Previously, there was the rape and killing of University of Santo Tomas cum laude graduate Cyrish Magalang in Cavite. She had boarded a tricycle operated by the brothers Garcia who brought her to a shack where they robbed and raped her, then stabbed her to death. The brutality of the killing shocked the nation: Her body bore more than 40 stab wounds and her head was smashed with a hollow block. Police said that the brothers had been in the thrall of drugs, which may (or may not) explain the utter violence of the deed.
In many of the gruesome crimes that have hogged the media limelight, many are drug-related. In Mindanao, it has become routine for print and broadcast journalists to report on drug syndicates operating under the very noses of law enforcers. The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines has in fact launched a campaign in Mindanao to help its members identify threats and their sources. Aside from Cagayan de Oro, the group has gone to three other cities—Zamboanga, Butuan and Kidapawan. This may be an indication of the pervasiveness of drug rings and other crime syndicates operating in the South.
And a cursory glance at the pages of metropolitan papers in the last month or so will show that heinous crimes, often drug-related, have been plaguing urban centers. There appears a conflagration of killings and other crimes. This explains the spate of initiatives by local governments to install CCTV cameras. Even Laguna is installing CCTV cameras around Laguna de Bai because of crimes happening lakeside! At the University of the Philippines in Los Baños, another rape-killing of a coed has led to calls for the installation of CCTVs in the sprawling campus. And UP in Diliman has had its share of shocking crime incidents.
Metro Manilans themselves know they face daunting personal security risks every day. In the University Belt, for example, students are held up on board jeepneys on their way to classes or when they’re walking grubby sidewalks and alleys. Manila prides itself as the Philippines’ center of education but students who flock to its colleges and universities face the constant threat of being brutalized, or even killed, by syndicated vice or petty criminality.
As indicated by the 2010 Luneta hostage crisis (in which the hostage taker was a dismissed police officer and the crisis was mishandled by the Philippine National Police and a City Hall headed by a retired police chief!), Manila is hardly a model of peace and security. And it seems that where Manila goes, the rest of the country goes.
It’s high time the PNP and other authorities did their job competently and transparently, without resort to summary executions and short cuts. They should produce results in their anticrime campaigns, which are often lavish in publicity but lacking in results. No amount of public-relations gimmickry will disguise the fact that public safety and order are in shambles. Nighttime holdups and broad-daylight burglaries, the rape-murder of young women heading home from work at night, young children killed while home alone, a barangay guard robbing and slitting the throats of a family of women in their own home, a grenade lobbed in Cubao, injuring the passengers of a passing bus… It’s as if we have come to a point that no one is safe anywhere.