Now they’re shookt, woke
In the midst of the holiday merrymaking, congressmen, senators and political leaders are in a state of uproar. They are beside themselves with grief, and are shocked, shocked at the senseless killing of Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe by hooded men on motorcycles on Dec. 22.
In their outrage, Batocabe’s colleagues and allies managed to raise an astounding bounty of P30 million in less than two days for any leads pointing to the killers, with congressmen promising to chip in P50,000 each to boost the reward money to as much as P50 million.
The denunciations have also flowed freely; House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, lamenting how “life has become so cheap” in the country, flew to Albay with other House leaders to personally condole with Batocabe’s family.
Proposals and ideas to stem the tide of impunity have furiously issued forth from various quarters: a ready offer of witness protection to witnesses, for instance, as well as a call for stricter gun control and for politicos to disarm and do away with bodyguards.
Not to be left behind, Sen. Richard Gordon issued a statement a day before Christmas decrying the “culture of violence and impunity that must be stopped immediately.”
The police and the people ought to be reminded that “we are a country that follows the rule of law,” he said, and that “such appears to have been forgotten as shown by violent events that occurred in the past 10 days.”
What happened in the past days that got Gordon, Arroyo and the nation’s other leaders all shookt — millennialspeak for shaken up, triggered?
Other than Batocabe’s murder, Gordon would cite the ambush on lawyer Erfe del Castillo and Efren Palmares in Negros Occidental, and the killing of Ariel Vicencio, son of former Malabon Mayor Amado “Boy” Vicencio, all on Dec. 22; and, before that, the assassination of councilor Ricardo Tan and his wife in Negros Occidental on Dec. 14.
Gordon also urged witnesses to shun their fear and come forward: “… It is not only police work that is important — what is also essential is the participation of the people by providing statements on what they may have witnessed including providing sworn testimonies to ensure that the perpetrators are appropriately punished.”
The nation’s leaders are suddenly, to use another millennial term, woke — aware, socially conscious. But this begs the P30-million question: Why only now?
It should be clear: Batocabe’s dastardly killing and those of other recent victims do deserve justice, and if the unprecedented bounty and the renewed official attention to the stark breakdown in law and order lead to the swift resolution of their cases, well and good.
But it must also be said: The ruling order’s collective gnashing of teeth, now that the violence is beginning to impinge on their social circle and threatening their equanimity, only illustrates how, in the Philippines, “some lives are just more precious than others,” as journalist and activist Inday Espina-Varona put it.
Where were all these politicians’ pleas for justice and rule of law over the past two years when thousands of their fellow Filipinos were dying in the government’s drug war, many falling prey, if not to bloody police operations, then to vigilante tag teams the cops couldn’t seem to catch — or, staggeringly, were shown to be part of?
The drug suspects among the urban poor, along with the “lumad” and peasants, activists, lawyers, children and human rights workers who have succumbed so far to the brutal “culture of violence and impunity” the nation’s rattled leaders now see fit to denounce (without mentioning the main sponsor, of course), were plainly unlucky to lack the political and social cachet that would make them the object of lamentation by legislators and other important people.
And so they died poor, obscure, often in wretched circumstances, and certainly without the fervid cries for justice now bouncing off the Batasan’s walls.
A couple of witnesses did come forward to testify, under oath, on the extrajudicial killings (EJKs) they had witnessed and participated in: Edgar Matobato and Arturo Lascañas.
But what did Gordon say again about Matobato?
“Ano ba credibility nitong mamang ito? [What is this man’s credibility]” And Lascañas? He “is a liar and, by his own admission, a longtime murderer…”
After six Senate hearings, Gordon concluded there were no EJKs, and the report on it by Amnesty International was all “hearsay… mere ‘tsismis.’”
This was in October 2016. The deaths of colleagues and fellows dear to Gordon, Arroyo et al. were still so far away.