Clear and present danger
Vincent Adia had been recuperating from multiple gunshots to his face at the Rizal Provincial Hospital in Angono, Rizal, on Nov. 5 when a lone unidentified gunman barged into the emergency room before noon, and shot him again at close range in front of horrified doctors and nurses. This time, the assassin made sure the 27-year-old branded a drug pusher would not survive.
Adia reportedly had feared for his life days before he was first shot just before dawn. He told friends that the police were after him, and, curiously, the emergency room had been crawling with cops that came and went, asking for custody of the injured Adia, before a gunman supposedly slipped through all that and finished the victim off.
Adia’s murder represents a shocking new level in the grim record of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) that have marked the Duterte administration’s war on drugs. Now, even hospitals are no longer off-limits to vigilantes targeting hapless suspects.
Days after Adia was killed, two more died in separate anti-illegal drug operations in Bulacan, further bloating the list of drug suspects killed in anti-drug operations nationwide. According to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency last week, that tally has reached 5,903 as of end-September from the start of the Duterte administration, with 47 killed in August and September alone.
Former Philippine National Police chief Police General Camilo Cascolan presented an even higher death toll from drug operations — 7,987 as of the end of October, with over a hundred killed in just two months. Cascolan said in his 60-day accomplishment report that 234,036 police operations were conducted from July 2016 to October this year, leading to these fatalities. Close to 360,000 were also arrested, further crowding the Philippines’ packed jails and prisons.
The unrelenting killings fly in the face of the recent Global Law and Order 2020 index by Washington-based Gallup that ranked the Philippines among the world’s “safest” countries, its citizens ostensibly feeling secure and having confidence in the police. President Duterte himself touted the survey, saying he was pleasantly surprised at the findings and crediting the police and the military for the top ranking.
Local surveys, though, paint a more nuanced picture of a populace gripped by fear and anxiety since 2016.
A December 2018 survey by the Social Weather Stations, for example, indicated that as many as four out of five of voting-age Filipino respondents feared that they or someone they knew would fall victim to an extrajudicial killing.
An earlier SWS survey, conducted in the second quarter of 2017, already underlined the skepticism felt by many Filipinos toward the police’s standard claim of “nanlaban” (resisted arrest) to justify the killing of drug suspects: 54 percent of the respondents in the nationwide poll expressed disbelief in the police claims, and 49 percent believed that most of the victims were not even drug pushers.
A December 2018 SWS survey reinforced that wariness toward the administration’s flagship domestic program with the finding that majority of Filipinos believed the police were themselves involved in the drug trade and EJKs, and were planting evidence against drug suspects.
And in a June 2019 SWS survey, majority of Filipinos agreed that it was dangerous to print or broadcast anything critical of the Duterte administration even if it was the truth.
Underlining that particular danger this week is news of yet another killing: Virgilio Maganes, a journalist based in Villasis, Pangasinan, was gunned down in front of his home on Tuesday, making him the 18th journalist murdered under the Duterte administration and the 190th since 1986.
The still-unidentified assailants thus finished the job on Maganes that was first attempted in November 2016, when the member of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) survived an ambush. At the time, his would-be killer had left a cardboard sign saying Maganes was a drug pusher, which the NUJP said was “an obvious attempt to smear him and mask their real motives.”
Other than the conviction of the three police killers of teenager Kian delos Santos in 2018, there has been “zero accountability” for “the death of thousands since 2016,” according to Human Rights Watch. That inexcusable neglect of and disdain toward the requirements of accountability and the rule of law, especially in cases involving law enforcers, will likely continue under the new Philippine National Police chief, Debold Sinas, himself one of the most high-profile unpunished violators of the lockdown measures the police had imposed, often harshly, on the rest of the population.
Adia’s murder inside a hospital is a gruesome reminder: EJKs remain a clear and present danger to the lives and safety of ordinary Filipinos.
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