AFTER I first read about the details of Marlina Flores-Sumera’s murder last Friday, I too thought that it might have to do with something other than her work as an announcer for a radio station in Malabon. Her colleagues said she wasn’t handling a particularly incendiary program, one that called for taking on the corrupt and ungodly who are to be found in high places employing low life. And she wasn’t confrontational.
As it appears, Sumera might have been murdered for her work not as a journalist but as an organizer. Sumera was one of the leading figures of a group calling for the distribution of a 4.2-hectare lot in Maysilo, Malabon, claiming it is government property. A rival group opposes that, saying the land is owned privately. Shortly before she was shot, the courts had just ruled in favor of Sumera’s group.
Sumera might have been murdered for reasons other than that she was a journalist. It doesn’t matter. Solving her murder remains the government’s No. 1 priority.
At the very least that is so because Sumera was a crusader, journalist or not. She was doing something for the little people of which she was one herself. Though she wasn’t rich or powerful, and though she probably understood the risks of pissing off those who were, she still did what she did, out of conviction, out of solidarity with her neighbors, out of a desire to give her own children a better life. That is what journalists do, or are supposed to, whether “in uniform” or out of it.
Quite apart from that, Sumera was ordinary folk. She was not a candidate or a BIR/Customs official or a pawnshop owner/loan shark who was gunned down while her car was pulling away from her garage or while it stewed before a red light. Sumera was a working woman, a member of the bedraggled class that hauls its ass off every early morning to go to the workplace to bring food to the table. She was killed while she was walking to the jeepney stop to take her daily commute. The assailant crept up behind her and shot her in the head, as cold-blooded a hit as you can find.
Sumera left behind a girl and two boys, aged 13, 11 and 6. If you are a parent, that’s the one thing that will get to you. Because you know what it is to worry about yourself not because of yourself but because of the children you will deprive of yourself if something happens to you. You can believe that Sumera’s last thoughts, such as there was an instant of time that afforded it, were about her children.
Sumera was ordinary folk. That’s what makes her case extraordinarily urgent. It makes the loudest claim to justice of all.
At the very most, whether the motive for killing Sumera had to do with her being a journalist or not, she was still a journalist and her murder carries a message for journalists. Or it has the most humongous consequences for journalists.
Her murder adds to the culture of impunity surrounding the killings of journalists. Her murder emboldens others to think of that option when dealing with journalists. It’s the fourth case of a journalist being killed in this country since President Benigno Aquino III took over, which suggests that the culture of impunity hasn’t been curbed at all. Or those steeped in it are not loath to test the new waters. Malabon comes pretty close to the capital. What’s to prevent the corrupt and ungodly from taking the killings a step further, finding someone better known and making the killing look as though it had nothing to do with journalism, or was payback time only for a “dirty journalist” (like a “dirty cop”) which can’t be hard with the AC-DC tribe?
As it is, the murder of Gerry Ortega hasn’t been solved and continues to drag on. Ortega was a journalist as well quite apart from being an environmentalist, taking on Palawan’s corrupt and ungodly, particularly where their greed was despoiling God’s earth. His murder sends this message to journalists, quite apart from environmentalists: “No matter how high up you go, no matter who your protectors are, we will get you. You cross us, you will pay.” That is the very message government in fact should be sending murderers. “No matter how rich and powerful you are, no matter who is protecting you, we will drag you out. You break the law, you will pay.”
You can’t send that message to criminals if you can’t catch them.
There is one surefire way to do so. That is by firing the entire police officialdom of the district where the murder occurs if they are not able to solve it in record time. Will that deplete the ranks of the police? Sure, and the better for it. Or the better for the country. That alone should assure that the crime rate will drop by half, to go by the Philippine response rate to crime, which is the fastest in the world: a crime happens and the police are already there.
Why should we wait for atrocities like the one that happened at Luneta last year when a hostage-taker massacred his hostages to demand that the heads of the police and the Department of Interior and Local Government roll for having botched their jobs? What is so different between that and the massacre of journalists? If anything, the latter is worse. So much worse.
Journalists, however they sometimes appear to be a curse, are one of God’s and democracy’s gifts to the world. It’s contemptible how we can allow the very people who try to make us see that “The truth shall set you free” to discover themselves only that “The truth shall make you dead.” The death of one man diminishes us all, said John Donne. Well, the death of one journalist pauperizes us all. The deaths of foreign tourists do not weigh more heavily than the deaths of local journalists. The first can only embarrass us before the world, the second should damn us before our eyes. Law enforcement officials can’t solve the murder of journalists?
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