As impunity goes, the murder of Rubylita Garcia ranks way up there. Garcia was a 52-year-old reporter who had worked for Remate for more than 20 years.
The two gunmen didn’t even bother to cover their faces. They barged into their victim’s house in Bacoor, Cavite, toward noon last Sunday, announcing “Wala kaming ibang gagalawin.” (We’re not going to harm anyone else.) Anyone else except, of course, their target, Rubylita.
She had just stepped out of the bathroom and was with her 10-year-old granddaughter, relishing the respite that Sunday brought to working folk. Without fanfare, the gunmen shot her before the horrified eyes of her apo, pumping four bullets into her body. They then walked out of the house and fled on a motorcycle.
Rubylita’s son, 28-year-old Tristan, recounted: “I was upstairs, on our rooftop, preparing the laundry, when I heard gunshots. At first, I thought something exploded.” It was in fact the sound of his mother dying. She didn’t die at once but managed to cling to life all the way to the hospital, managing as well with her dying breath to name the person she believed had ordered it—the chief of police of Tanza. He has been relieved of duty, and an investigation is underway.
It is a heinous crime, and the perpetrators, gunmen and mastermind, ought to burn in hell, or its earthly equivalent, which is to rot in jail in the company of social dregs like themselves for what they did. What did the gunmen think—that by assuring their victims they were out to kill only one of them that they were somehow being professional? They were somehow being disciplined? They were somehow being considerate? This country has become so awash in B-movies that real-life murderers themselves have started uttering horrifically murderous, or murderously horrific, lines like this.
It wasn’t just Rubylita who died that day; her family did, too, if in spirit, which is often a worse death than in body. Especially her apo, who will now need counseling to get past the trauma of seeing a loved one torn away from her in this way. Who will now need caring to get her past the nightmares and escape the fate of growing up emotionally stunted. The murderers’ assurance does not make the thing any less heinous, it makes it all the more macabre.
“Please help us get justice for mommy,” says Tristan. The very simplicity of the plea is a ram pounding on heaven’s door. What makes this murder particularly monstrous, and something we ought to get monstrously angry about, is that from all indications, Rubylita carried out her journalistic duties conscientiously and well. Though while at that, even if she did not—and I’ve heard cynical comments over the last few days that the victim might have had a grievous “atraso” to provoke so violent a response—what of it? No one deserves to die in this way. And if it’s all right to execute the corrupt and abusive, let’s start with politicians, not journalists.
But the people Rubylita had worked with and broken bread with swear she wasn’t that sort at all. She was a hardworking newspaperwoman, the head of the newly formed Confederation of Active Media Practitioners’ Organizations, who was widely known for her exposés of corruption in high places. Her friends and colleagues have little doubt her killing came from her journalistic practice, making this a direct assault on press freedom.
It is something to be alarmed about. Especially as it happened only a stone’s throw away from the capital. If that can happen with ease to a reporter in Cavite, that can happen with ease to a reporter in Metro Manila. It certainly emboldens malefactors to try it out here and see how the public reacts.
Which is the more alarming thing: The reaction has been tepid. Of course it has landed on the front pages of newspapers and on prime-time TV. Of course the police have suspended the chief of police of Tanza pending an investigation. Of course the government has vowed to put the killers in jail in record time. But the seething rage is not there. The sense of oppression is not there. The cry of “tama na, sobra na, tigilan na” is not there. Only the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) has been there to express horror and reprehensibility over it. And mean it.
Which is really the only thing that can stop things like the murder of Rubylita Garcia. Which is really the only thing that can stop the continuing murder of crows, or journalists: The NUJP counts 20 journalists killed since P-Noy’s term began, showing how the culture of impunity has been little checked over the years.
Think about it: What’s to stop gunmen from barging into a house and shooting targets right where they stand? Not the walls of a house, particularly the nonexistent ones of working stiffs. Not the fear of the police, particularly in places like Cavite, which is home to all the unsavory characters the Revillas have made a career of romanticizing in movies.
The only thing that can stop them, and has stopped them over the decades, is public revulsion, public opprobrium, social taboo, the overpowering sense of “It’s just not done.” You just don’t murder journalists, any more than you murder priests, any more than you murder teachers, any more than you murder children. Those are crimes that cry out to the heavens for vengeance, those are crimes that cry out to the Furies for retribution. It’s the expectation that crimes like those will spark immediate outrage, will demand the unleashing of the hounds of justice, which is a far more obdurate order than anything the President himself can issue to the police, that stops them. You remove that and the road will be open to mayhem.
You remove that and journalists will be fair game for the unfairest deeds.
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