Crime and punishment in Cebu
The spate of killings of lawyers in Cebu could be the stuff of Shakespearean tragedy. In “Henry VI,” one of the characters suggests “…let’s kill all the lawyers.” Scholars have argued on whether the Bard meant it seriously. One side says he viewed lawyers as instruments of the oppressors, not defenders of liberty; the other that he was actually praising lawyers.
Recently, Cebu’s SunStar newspaper ran a story titled “Hello Attorney, Your Life or P100K.” The report went: “A man has been calling some lawyers in Cebu saying they’re on his hit list. But he said he’d spare them for the sum of P100,000. Speaking in Cebuano, he called the lawyers by their full names and told them his men were monitoring their movements.”
On Sept. 3, he phoned lawyer Kim Grace Mendoza and told her he was the one who had ambushed lawyer Inocencio dela Cerna.
The conversation (translated from Cebuano) went: “This is Bobby from Davao. Do you have time to talk to me?”
Grace: “Yes, what about?”
B: “Ma’am, I head the gun-for-hire in Mindanao. I have six men with me now in Cebu. Yesterday, we targeted Attorney Inocencio dela Cerna but he survived. Now, ma’am, you’re next on our list. We’ve had you under surveillance for the past few days. But we can spare you if you pay P100,000.”
G: “Just kill me.”
B: “But we can protect you from anything bad happening.”
G: “Never mind, sir. I’d prefer you to kill me.”
B: “Really? You prefer being killed?”
G: “Yes. Go ahead, Sir, as I have no money.
B (before hanging up): “Oh well, if that’s what you want. You’re crazy!”
The gutsy Mendoza told the police she’d been receiving threats by the same man since 2018. She’d recorded the last call and noted the phone number, but realized he’d be hard to trace as he could get rid of his SIM card.
The day before Mendoza got the call, Dela Cerna survived an attack as he was driving out of the Hall of Justice courts in downtown Cebu. A gunman wearing a full-face helmet aimed shots through his windshield, then hopped onto a motorbike driven by another masked man.
Dela Cerna reported the details to the police in a signed affidavit. A day later, the police wanted to question him again but he’d disappeared. They figured he’d fled the country.
Dela Cerna was a lawyer for some high-profile clients, among them police operatives of the Highway Patrol Group accused of killing lawyer Noel Archival in 2014; Niño Rey Boniel, suspected of killing his wife Bien Unido mayor Gisela Boniel, whose body was reportedly dumped in the sea off Cebu in 2017 and never found; Ronda mayor Mariano Blanco III, who was shot while napping in his office by armed men, followed by Ronda vice mayor Jonah John Ungab’s murder, both in 2018. This year Dela Cerna was counsel to Medellin mayor Ricardo Ramirez, who was shot by gunmen while detained in hospital.
In my piece “Cebu: The Wild Wild East” run by the Inquirer on Sept. 19, 2018, I described motorbike-riding assassins in Cebu as being not quite Chicago-gangland types, but more like practitioners of small-scale guerrilla warfare as they melt into rural landscapes from urban settings.
Cebuano women haven’t been spared. This year, prosecutor Mary Ann Castro was shot while driving home in her car. She had a colorful past that included being suspended twice from office by the Ombudsman, accused by her ex-husband of immorality and involvement in an affair with policeman Adonis Dumpit, former Cebu mayor Tomas Osmeña’s bodyguard who was later killed in Bohol.
Media source Rappler has tallied the assassinations, since Rodrigo Duterte took office, of eight vice mayors and 12 mayors nationwide from July 2016 and August 2019. The most notorious case is of Ozamiz Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog whom police operatives shot in jail along with his wife, brother, sister and 11 of his security detail.
The notorious case in Cebu of the Chiong sisters who were abducted, raped and killed by seven men in 1997 produced rage among Cebuanos when four of the accused were recently found to have been released for “good behavior.” This was soon after the brouhaha over the planned release of former Calauan mayor Antonio Sanchez, who’d masterminded a rape and murder in his province. After President Duterte said on Sept. 4 that he was giving 15 days for the four Chiong killers to surrender, two turned themselves in.
Thus far, the other two men, Josman Aznar and James Anthony Uy, have, like Inocencio dela Cerna, disappeared into thin air.
Isabel Escoda has been watching developments in her hometown for decades.
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