It was a nightmare that no one—least of all parents—would ever want to experience: 43 students from a rural teachers’ college in Mexico bundled off in police cars and turned over to hitmen of a drug cartel for disposal.
The students were in buses on their way to a protest rally for more government funds for their college when waylaid by the police, reportedly on orders of a local politician’s wife who thought the students might disrupt an event she had organized to show off her charity work. “Teach them a lesson,” she reportedly told the police on that night of Sept. 26 shortly before the teacher-trainees were arrested.
Packed by the hitmen in a truck so tightly that 15 suffocated and died along the way, the students were manacled and marched to a rubbish dump where they were shot and later burned in a pyre stoked to last at least seven hours. Their ashes were then gathered in garbage bags that were thrown into a river. Six weeks later, the bags were fished out after the gunmen were identified and confessed to their crime.
Though the parents have refused to believe that the students, initially declared missing, had been killed until DNA tests proved it so, what is certain is that the massacre cries out to the heavens for justice. That the perpetrators were officers of the law makes the massacre even more condemnable. From whom do people seek redress now that authorities themselves mangle the law and stomp on dissent with barbarous force?
The massacre of the 43 students has unleashed a wave of anger in the small town of Iguala that has spread to various parts of Mexico—as it should.
Half a world away, in the Philippines, a similar crime has horrified the town of Bontoc in Mountain Province.
According to a report by Inquirer Northern Luzon, Stefene Galidan, a business administration sophomore, was picked up by police for being “disruptive” and violating curfew on Nov. 4. The next day, he was declared dead at a hospital while being treated for injuries sustained, the police claimed, when he jumped off the police vehicle and hit the pavement.
The arresting officers said Galidan had feared getting a police record and was in panic. Yet, the police were also quoted as saying that he had volunteered to go to the police station, supposedly to file charges against those who had accosted him.
What twisted logic is this? Why would Galidan jump off the vehicle if he had volunteered to go to the station himself? How could he hope to report the very same men who had custody of him at the moment? And why would he fear getting a police record when he, according to the police, was only going to file a complaint against his custodians?
The police claims are definitely open to dispute. What cannot be denied is the fact that a young man, with no police record and picked up for being “disruptive” and violating curfew, died in suspicious circumstances under police custody. A witness has reportedly surfaced, claiming that the police had maltreated Galidan before he was taken to hospital for treatment.
The five policemen involved in the Galidan case have been put on administrative leave pending investigation of the case. But the student’s killing also demands an inquiry into the mindset and training of law enforcers in this country who, as in the dark days of martial law and the suppression of activism, fancy themselves as accuser, judge and executioner when handling suspected felons.
In Bontoc and in Iguala, the police demonstrated skewed priorities in upholding “order” over youthful idealism as expressed through dissent. But isn’t idealism synonymous with, and even second nature to, young people who dream of changing the world? What the law enforcers do not appear to realize is that peace and order cannot be achieved by simply killing dissent. It is by allowing contrary voices to be heard that makes democracy work. The free market of ideas breeds diverse points of view that make for informed, and therefore better, choices.
It’s said that dissent makes democracy a messy option, but the “mess” is not half as troubling, half as horrifying, as finding the incinerated remains of 43 students in garbage bags, or a young man dead for violating curfew—with law enforcers as their suspected killers.
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