Unabated impunity and the new PhilHealth chief
Early this year, Polomolok, a small town in the province of South Cotabato, became a “hotspot” of unresolved killings of mostly ordinary citizens such as farmers. Some victims were suspected members of the Ansar Al-Khilafah Philippines, a local iteration of the terrorist group Dawla Islamiyah. Informants shared that since the start of 2020, a string of killings done by riding-tandem assassins has raised a specter of fear among residents, especially among the Muslim Magindanawn communities there.
The spate of killings occurred in random frequency starting Dec. 31 last year with the killing of Barangay Lapu chair Abdullah Nilong II. The killing frenzy picked up in April, May, until July. There was a short lull in the killing spree, but on Aug. 7 and 8, at least five people had been killed, four of whom were alleged members of the local Dawla Islamiyah. The number of victims in the series of killings had reached more than a dozen, according to a local media report last July 21. In Kabacan, North Cotabato, nine Magindanawn farmers were killed at a checkpoint on the national highway in Barangay Aringay near the campus of the University of Southern Mindanao when they stopped for COVID-19 health protocols. Witnesses alleged that the motorcycle-riding victims were asked to show their identification cards and other papers when they were shot at. This brazen midday killing spree took place last Aug. 29.
The regional director of the Commission on Human Rights Region 12 said some members of the local police are implicated in the Kabacan massacre.
Last Sept. 4, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) wrote that efforts of the Philippine government to bring the suspects in the Maguindanao massacre to justice late last year have been a step toward improving the country’s ranking in the Global Impunity Index (GII). Undersecretary Joel Sy Egco, executive director of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security, said this only shows that “The so-called culture of impunity against journalists in the country has finally come to an end.” The Philippines ranks fifth among countries notorious for having the most murder cases and other violent acts committed against journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ GII released in October 2019.
Journalists are not the only victims of unabated impunity in this country. Ordinary people, farmers, indigenous peoples in the remote mountain areas, and hapless urban poor residents have also become targets of the killing machines of abusive state security agents. The killings go unresolved and are rationalized using the “policy cover” order of no less than the President to kill those alleged to be involved in the illicit drug trade through the Philippine National Police’s “Operation Tokhang.”
Meantime, former National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) director, lawyer, and certified public accountant Dante Gierran has been appointed as the new PhilHealth chief. Gierran has been implicated in many controversies during his stint as NBI director, including being allegedly involved in the gruesome killing of a man thrown to crocodiles, and flip-flopping on the Maria Ressa case, among many others.
Are we to think that the acts of impunity attributed to Gierran made him pleasing in the eyes of President Duterte? Are these the new “minimum qualification standards” for high-ranking positions in the government now?
One of the minimum requirements for the position of PhilHealth chief is that he or she should have “…at least 7 years of experience in the field of public health, management, finance, and health economics or a combination of any of these…” (Section 14 of the Universal Health Care Law). Gierran himself has admitted in public that he knows next to nothing about public health.
Appointing Gierran as PhilHealth chief is like putting a head of a drug syndicate at the helm of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency. This is one reason why impunity in this country will go on unabated in the future contrary to one government lackey’s claim that it has finally come to an end.
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