Monday, December 12, 2016

Land of the Mourning | Opinion, News, The Philippine Star |

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Land of the Mourning
By Ana Marie Pamintuan
(The Philippine Star)
| Updated December 12, 2016 - 12:00am

Between a drug dealer and the police, whose story should President Duterte believe?

How about the story of the National Bureau of Investigation? And the Senate’s? Both NBI probers and senators had reached the same conclusion: Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa was killed with premeditation by police in his jail cell. It was a rubout; there was a conspiracy to eliminate him.

Simply put, he was murdered by a team from the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP CIDG)’s Eastern Visayas office led by the now infamous Superintendent Marvin Marcos.

This much we know: President Duterte is shedding no tears for Espinosa, and he’s supporting Marcos and the CIDG team all the way.

What’s unclear is whether Dirty Rody ordered the police to execute Espinosa in his jail cell before dawn on Nov. 5. If Du30 gave the order, he should at least admonish the CIDG team for a messy job. Maybe he’s giving the regional police some credit for the better-executed neutralization of six bodyguards of Espinosa’s son Kerwin in a raid on one of the family’s homes.

The Espinosas’ lawyer was also shot dead in his car together with a young female companion. Even accused drug dealers have a right to legal counsel. Where is the outcry from the Integrated Bar of the Philippines? This is a direct threat to defense lawyers.

And what about the girl? Will she ever get justice? Who ordered that hit? No one seems interested in finding out.

* * *

The Philippines now has the highest homicide rate in Asia. Not too long ago, cops were taken to task if even five homicides were reported in their areas of assignment within a month, especially if the killings remained unsolved.

Today the country has turned into a Wild, Wild West, with the hunt for drug personalities turned into a blood sport complete with rewards of cash and a job promotion or favored assignment for cops who kill.

Under normal circumstances, in functioning democracies, cops come under fire from the public when homicides become rampant and no one is arrested. In our country, there are serial killers on the loose, but the PNP rarely tries to arrest them, even if aggrieved relatives shout themselves hoarse about the injustice of seeing their loved ones gunned down in cold blood.

All the red flags are there: children dying in the crossfire; masked strangers barging into private homes to kill; gunmen on a motorcycle tossing the ubiquitous cardboard sign on their victim, describing him as a drug pusher, but he lives to show the cardboard indictment and deny peddling drugs.

Occasionally, the PNP is forced to investigate a killing – usually when there’s CCTV footage or a photograph, especially one that has gone viral on social media, showing cops abusing their power.

But for the most part, the PNP takes its cue from Dirty Rody and simply lets the bodies pile up, working to achieve his body count target of several thousands more. This makes all the killings state-sponsored and systematic, and someone is likely to pay for the mass deaths. Du30 may be ready to go to prison and he may be ready to die even while in office, but he isn’t the only one who will be held accountable for this slaughter. He can’t stand in as jailbird for all of those who are directly carrying out his order; they must be made to answer for their own kill.

Several police officers have admitted to me that they like the effect of the killings on lawbreakers: crooks, including political kingpins, now fear cops. And as we can see from public reaction, Filipinos frustrated with slow justice and the weak criminal justice system are also willing to look the other way when the forces of Oplan Tokhang come knocking in their neighborhood.

Unless, of course, Tokhang’s victim happens to be someone dear to them, or someone that they know for sure was innocent.

That’s when a supporter of the drug war will understand why there is rising concern over Du30’s full support for Marvin Marcos, to the point of undermining the work of the Senate, the NBI and its supervising agency the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Duterte may be overjoyed that Espinosa is dead, but as President, he is sworn to uphold the Constitution and the law and he should be more circumspect in his public statements.

He can throw a party in private to celebrate Espinosa’s killing, but in public, his statements about his control over the DOJ and NBI in connection with the mayor’s killing will henceforth always cast doubts on the impartiality and credibility of probes conducted by the two agencies.

* * *

It’s amazing how Filipinos do not seem to be horrified by the mass deaths. Perhaps if all the 5,600 (and counting) corpses were tossed together into a common grave, like those made by the Nazis during the Holocaust, the horror will finally hit home. That would be a mountain of corpses, most of them gaunt perhaps from drug abuse but also from sheer poverty and hunger.

Why were we sickened by the sight of 58 people pounded with a backhoe into a shallow grave, some still in their vehicles, on that hillside in Maguindanao, but not by an unending stream of corpses tossed into gutters, many with their heads wrapped in plastic and packing tape? Incidentally, how many civilians know how to commit murder in this way?

Those corpses are not mannequins, but people with parents, siblings, possibly spouses and young children who are grieving over their loss. Some of the bereaved are too poor to claim the bodies in morgues – the reason corpses have piled up unclaimed in several funeral parlors.

This is another part of this national tragedy: families are too impoverished to even pay for the autopsy required before a death certificate is issued and a body can be claimed for proper burial.

Just the sight of a few tiers of unclaimed bodies in one funeral parlor is horrific enough. One such image was featured in that poignant article ran last week by the New York Times.

A friend in Washington called my attention last week to that NYT article, and for sure it has been read by millions around the world. This is the new global image of the Philippines. Read it and weep.

We need a new national anthem. The title can be Land of the Mourning.

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