Swift — but selective — justice
Maybe it was the P50-million reward money raised by politicians. Or the chest-thumping outrage that boiled over from lawmakers over the killing of one of their own. It could also be President Duterte’s blistering threats on an Albay local official he had publicly intimated was behind the assassination, way before the conclusion of the official investigation.
Whatever it was that gave the police enough impetus to fast-track the case, the killing of Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe is now said to be solved. The resolution was achieved in record time — barely two weeks after Batocabe and a police escort were gunned down on Dec. 22 in Daraga, Albay.
The confessed gunman, Henry Yuson, a former militiaman and alleged ex-member of the communist New People’s Army, surrendered, tagged several others, and fingered Daraga Mayor Carlwyn Baldo as the supposed brains behind Batocabe’s murder.
Baldo has denied involvement, saying he is “a convenient scapegoat… an easy target, but that does not make me guilty of the crime.” Nevertheless, the Philippine National Police is confident its case is “airtight.”
What a difference official pressure can make.
The entire weight of officialdom loomed large over this case from the get-go. So unnerved and incensed were lawmakers over the murder of Batocabe — the first killing of a congressman under the Duterte administration — that they immediately raised a huge bounty for leads on the crime and took out newspaper ads denouncing the “senseless killing” and the “assault on Congress” that it represented; the House leader, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, was also heard to grieve that “life is now so cheap.”
President Duterte and a gaggle of Malacañang officials trooped to Batocabe’s wake to condole with his family, the President all the while bloviating freely and furiously on who might be behind the crime.
These were unmistakable prods and cues the police could ignore only at their peril. The speed with which they worked to collar alleged gunman Yuson and extract a confession from him pointing all the way to Baldo was exemplary, the resulting story sounding plausible enough if too clean-cut: a plot to kill a political rival (Batocabe was running for Albay mayor opposite Baldo), hired killers, a betrayal over unpaid money—and a squeal that’s as plain as can be (Yuson: “Mayor Baldo ordered me to kill Batocabe”).
For now, Yuson’s lone testimony is the scaffolding on which the police have hoisted the entirety of their case. Where is the gun? Has there been a ballistics test? Are there text messages, phone calls or other communications that would definitively link the alleged mastermind to his hired hands, or made mention of money, time, target, etc?
The rest of the details are presumably forthcoming. The PNP and the grand consortium that bore down on it during this case are, for now, still engaged in rounds of plummy plaudits and congratulations (Arroyo: “The House of Representatives deeply appreciates the dedication and hard work our police force have put in to go after the perpetrators of the despicable act in such a short time”).
The cops do deserve the pat on the back; any crime solved speedily through honest, conscientious law enforcement work is always a plus for society.
But, along with those commendations, the police will have to accept their damning implication: Selective justice is at work. The snappy handling of Batocabe’s case merely underlines the very injustice in the PNP’s lumbering, dismal response to thousands of other, mostly obscure, killings.
Were it not for the badgering imposed on it by the agitated political aristocracy for the death of a colleague, would the chips have fallen as fast and as neatly as they seemingly have in this case?
Even as the PNP basks in the honeyed words and praises by a relieved ruling order, it has yet to disclose its findings on the 22,983 cases of killings of ordinary Filipinos classified as deaths under inquiry (DUI) in its records, from the time President Duterte launched his war on drugs in 2016.
In a report, the PNP Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management said at least 33 persons were killed daily from July 1, 2016 to May 21, 2018.
Across the Philippines, an average of four people are killed each day by riding-tandem shooters — the same modus that killed Batocabe.
Do their lives matter as much? That a congressman’s killing got solved in two weeks, while theirs continue to languish, is the bleak, deeply dismaying answer.
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