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Bloody holidays

/ 04:07 AM December 27, 2020

However one desperately wished for a measure of good cheer after an extraordinarily taxing 2020, the season that traditionally marks the birth of the Savior was smeared in blood this year, marred by several violent deaths. At least seven cases of murder captured the headlines some 10 days before Christmas, including that of a lawyer, a school supervisor, a police officer, and a community doctor who had been red-tagged. On Dec. 15, Dr. Mary Rose Sancelan and her husband Edwin were shot dead by men on motorcycle at Guihulngan City in Negros Oriental.

On Dec. 16, Abdulkadir Usman, a public school supervisor in President Quirino town in Sultan Kudarat province, died on the spot after being shot at by riding-tandem men while he was driving.

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On Dec. 17, lawyer Baby Maria Concepcion Ladero-Ole was shot dead in Danao City, the 54th lawyer to be killed under President Duterte’s term.

On Dec. 20, two unarmed individuals, Sonya Gregorio and Frank Anthony Gregorio, were shot at point blank range by police officer Jonel Nuezca in Paniqui, Tarlac, after a heated argument.

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On Dec. 22, police intelligence officer Staff Sergeant Ildefonso Casugod was shot dead in Pontevedra in Negros Occidental while walking with the mayor and the mayor’s bodyguard.

And last Dec. 21, the National Bureau of Investigation confirmed that a mutilated body found last October in Tarlac was that of controversial retired Court of Appeals justice Normandie Pizarro. The body of Pizarro, who had been missing since Oct. 23, was found days later with his right hand missing and the fingers of his left hand chopped off, but it took investigators almost two months to confirm his identity. Pizarro was the judge behind the acquittal of former Palawan governor Joel Reyes in the Gerry Ortega murder case, and the acquittal of Janet Lim Napoles in her serious illegal detention case in May 2017. He wrote the ponencia of the ruling that nullified a Hawaii court decision granting $2 billion worth of damages to martial law victims.

The series of brazen killings, adding to the stark body count over the last four years, has prompted six senators allied with the Duterte administration to file Senate Resolution No. 600, seeking a legislative inquiry to “break the culture of impunity, especially among law enforcement agencies.” Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri and Senators Grace Poe, Juan Edgardo Angara, Sherwin Gatchalian, Nancy Binay, and Joel Villanueva called for an end to the rampant killings that have gripped the country even in the middle of a pandemic, citing at least 15 extrajudicial killings from July to December.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros also filed Senate Resolution No. 599 seeking justice for the Sancelans, while Sen. Imee Marcos filed Senate Resolution No. 593 seeking an investigation into the “alarming deaths and disappearances of members of the legal community.”

At least 54 lawyers and judges, according to a group of 70 lawyers, have been victims of extrajudicial killings since President Duterte took office in 2016. The group of law school deans, former lawmakers, and legal experts last Dec. 22 urged Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta to ask Malacañang to protect legal practitioners. “The continuing, increasing, and more brazen killings [of] Filipino lawyers and judges have been going [on] for many years now, but we noticed a sharp increase since President Rodrigo Duterte came to office in 2016 and has made the legal profession one of the most dangerous careers in the country,” they said in a letter to Peralta. The group cited the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, which requires governments to ensure that lawyers are able to fully perform their profession without interference and harassment.

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines, in a separate letter dated Dec. 17, also asked Mr. Duterte, himself a lawyer, to take action on the killings of legal professionals: “When lawyers, judges, prosecutors, and workers in the justice sector are murdered with impunity and alarming regularity, no one feels safe, our people lose trust and faith in our government and its justice system, and the unscrupulous are emboldened to take the law in their criminal hands.”

The administration and its allies continue to deny that an environment of impunity exists in the country. In the wake of Nuezca’s murder of the Gregorios, Sen. Bato dela Rosa, the former chief implementer of Mr. Duterte’s “war on drugs,” baldly claimed that no one in the administration ever instructed law enforcers to kill—despite ample record of the President himself saying so. For observers such as Amnesty International, the line of accountability is clear: Mr. Duterte, it said in a statement last September, has “turned the Philippines into a bloodbath where police and unidentified vigilantes are free to kill as they please… This is not an accidental by-product of his administration, but its central feature.”

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TAGS: 2020, Christmas, EJK, impunity, investigation, Killings, Rights, Senate, Senate Resolution No. 600, Violence
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