When numbness sets in
Amid a pandemic that has upended our lives, including a sudden loss of jobs and livelihoods, once-in-a-century typhoons, terrible floods, and the onset of political turbulence, the Filipino people are hard put to pay attention to yet another tragedy.
Does that explain the seeming public indifference to a series of killings of journalists, lawyers, judges, and a police officer over a period of a few weeks or so? Or could this silence be blamed instead on the numbness that has set in after so many other killings that have turned the streets of many of our communities into killing fields?
Whatever the explanation, justice and history demand a listing of the latest victims of violence in the country, be it state-sponsored or not.
The recent killings started this month with the fatal shooting of Judge Maria Teresa Abadilla in her own chambers last Nov. 11. Then on Nov. 14, journalist Ronnie Villamor was shot dead by soldiers in Masbate.
Three days later, on Nov. 17, the vehicle of lawyer Eric Jay Magcamit, 35, was flagged down while he was on his way from Puerto Princesa to Quezon town in Palawan, and when Magcamit stepped out, he was shot on the spot. On Nov. 21, former Jolo, Sulu, police chief Lt. Col. Walter Annayo was gunned down in Sultan Mastura, Maguindanao. Then on Nov. 23, lawyer Joey Luis Wee, 51, was targeted as he walked from his car to his office in Cebu City. Police said the shooters fled the scene on board a motorcycle.
Associations of journalists and lawyers have responded quickly in outrage and concern. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) from its base in Bangkok has called on local authorities to “independently investigate” the circumstances surrounding the killing of Villamor and hold those responsible to account.
Per a report by the CPJ, “In the afternoon of Nov. 14, Philippine Army soldiers shot and killed Villamor, a contributor to the local independent Dos Kantos Balita weekly tabloid, outside a military checkpoint in Milagros, a town in Masbate province in the central Philippines, while he was on his way to cover a disputed land survey.” Soldiers claimed to be investigating reports of armed men in the area when Villamor was stopped. A local news story said the journalist drew a firearm and the troops opened fire. The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines dismisses this version of events, saying that soldiers stopped Villamor and four surveyors he was accompanying. When the group tried to call local police with whom they had coordinated their trip, the soldiers opened fire.
“Soldiers cannot simply gun down journalists without fear that their actions will be thoroughly investigated and wrongdoing punished,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Prosecution of the perpetrators is the only way the cycle of impunity will be broken in the Philippines.”
That, too, is the stance taken by lawyers’ groups. The Palawan chapter of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines denounced the killing of Magcamit. “It is our consistent stand that violence has no place in this civilized society, especially against those in the legal profession who are courageously helping in the administration of justice,” the lawyers’ group said. Magcamit’s killing “is not only an attack (on) a member of the IBP but also an attack on the legal order and justice system by means of fear and violence.”
Wee’s killing brings to 53 the number of judges, lawyers, or prosecutors who have lost their lives under the Duterte administration. A media commentator notes that this number “is like 10 per year, or almost one per month. The rate has reached a point where we’ve become used to the ritual of issuing statements ‘condemning’ and ‘decrying’ their deaths. But after 53 killed, one asks whether that is all we can do. One asks whether it is all they deserve.”
The Presidential Task Force on Media Security, especially created to investigate and prosecute those involved in the threats, attacks, and killings of journalists, has yet to respond to questions about Villamor’s death. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra has attributed the lack of action on the rampant extrajudicial killings to three factors: the dearth of eyewitnesses, the use of professional killers, and little evidence.
As for the shooting of Annayo, the former Jolo police chief whose men were implicated in the fatal ambush of four army intelligence operatives, little has been revealed about the killing of one of the police force’s own, beyond the expected condolences to his family.
Perhaps we have grown weary of waiting for any police, military, or judicial action on instances of street “justice.” But such indifference could also explain why the killers could act with such impunity and brazen defiance. When law and order break down, then all our lives are at risk, even if few of us are lawyers, judges, or journalists.
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