Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo died from gunshot wounds sustained after being attacked on March 4 at his home in Barangay San Isidro, Pamplona town while attending to beneficiaries of the government’s 4Ps or Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program.
Lanao del Sur Gov. Mamintal Adiong, Jr. was shot at and wounded in Bukidnon on Feb. 17, where four of his security personnel, including three police officers, died. Two days later, Aparri, Cagayan Vice-Mayor Rommel Alameda and five other persons traveling with him were killed in a highway ambush in Bagabag, Nueva Vizcaya. Maguindanao Mayor Datu Ohto Montawal was injured in an ambush along Roxas Boulevard in Pasay City on Feb. 22, sustaining a gunshot wound on his hip and left arm. Five former local officials were also assassinated in the latter half of 2022.
“The gangland-style shooting incidents executed in broad daylight are etching fears on our people about how easily lives can be taken, even of people who are in power,” Senator Grace Poe said at the Senate meeting that drafted instructions to the Philippine National Police (PNP) and other law enforcement agencies “to undertake the necessary steps in ensuring the safety of all.”1
It came from the PNP itself that there were 105,568 crimes recorded from July 2022 to Jan. 7, 2023 (5.5 months) with 57,103 of these in Luzon, 21,421 in the Visayas, and 27,044 incidents in Mindanao, with theft, rape, and robbery as the most prevalent crimes. But the country’s crime rate has dropped by 19.49% from January to Feb. 25 this year as compared to the same period in 2022, amid the spate of attacks against local officials this month, PNP chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin, Jr. said.2
It is not just alarming because local officials have been killed. Not to be forgotten is 24-year-old Adamson University student John Matthew Salilig who was brutally beaten to death at fraternity induction rites just last Feb. 18, and secretly buried. His decomposing body was found 10 days later in a shallow grave in Imus City, Cavite. Authorities identified 18 persons of interest. Six of them were invited for investigation, while two were arrested for obstruction of justice, including the father of one of the suspects. One of the persons of interest committed suicide on Feb. 28.3
After the case of Salilig went public, the Public Attorney’s Office disclosed the killing of student Rommel Baguio, who was reported dead in December 2022. He was joining the Tau Gamma Phi at the University of Cebu. While undergoing the fraternity’s initiation rites, Baguio reportedly incurred injuries that lead to his death.4 Baguio was allegedly hazed on Dec. 10, 2022, rushed to the hospital on Dec. 18, and died on Dec. 19. Five fraternity officials will now face cases of murder and violation of the anti-hazing law.5
It is alarming when the youth are themselves violent. It clearly and sadly shows the deterioration of moral values in a creeping culture of violence. For the youth only grows, learning values and knowing what works and does not work in society, from seeing what the older people around them do. Reinforcement of values and mores will come gradually with individual experiences. The formation of the youth and ensuring the integrity of the whole of society are guided by the fair and just application and enforcement of the laws by the justice system.
“Crime does not pay” must be emblazoned in the collective conscience. But what about those who “get away with murder,” literally and figuratively? The Philippines remained the seventh worst country in the world where journalist killers get away with murder, according to a report from the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The recent murders of radio journalists Percival Mabasa (Oct. 3, 2022), who had been critical of some politicians, and Renato Blanco (Sept. 18, 2022), who had reported on local politics and corruption, “raised fears that the culture of violence and impunity will endure.”6
How else will society know of itself if media and social communications are stifled or controlled? Unsolved crimes clog the dockets of courts while some persons accused of high crime are seemingly too speedily exonerated. Human Rights Watch (HRW), a group of 70-plus nationalities who are country experts, lawyers, journalists, and others who work to protect human rights around the world, is active where there seems to be inadequate attention by the country concerned (hrw.org/about/about-us). In a policy paper submitted to UN member states, HRW said that extrajudicial killings in the Philippine government’s “war on drugs” still occur on a regular basis.
“The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) calculated in its report to the Council that the death toll was at least 8,663. Domestic human rights groups and the government appointed Philippines Commission on Human Rights state that the real figure of “drug war” killings is possibly triple the number reported in the OHCHR report.”7 In late 2021, the International Criminal Court (ICC) commenced investigations on alleged crimes against humanity in the “drug war.” A month after, then-President Rodrigo Duterte had the Philippines resign from the ICC. The Philippines, not the ICC, must have the first crack at investigating the alleged extrajudicial killings in its territory, the Legal Cooperation Cluster of the National Task Force to End Local Armed Conflict advised.8
On Jan. 26, a panel of judges at the ICC in the Hague authorized the Office of the Prosecutor to resume its investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in the Philippines. The judges concluded that the Philippine government “failed to substantiate its assertions that it was doing enough to investigate and prosecute killings that took place” from 2016 to 2022.9
The culture of violence and impunity will entrench itself as criminals are not punished. Dumaguete Bishop Julito Cortes condemned the “heartbreaking and senseless act of murder” of Governor Degamo and five others, and asked the police and the military to work to bring those accountable to justice. “How can we ever attain lasting peace if this culture of violence continues to torment us? When will this cycle of killings ever stop? We pray, then, that the perpetrators behind this bloodshed will be brought to justice soon.”10
“To those whose hands are full of blood, heed the words of the Prophet Isiah: ‘Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before God’s eyes; cease doing evil and learn to do good,’” Bishop Cortes said, citing Isaiah 1:16-17.
Justice for the victims, and for the Filipino people, who have been betrayed and robbed of their self-respect and integrity by the ruthless violence of a few heartless lost souls who have usurped power over life and death for their own ends.
1 philstar.com, March 6, 2023
2 pna.gov.ph, Feb. 27, 2023
3cnnphilippines.com, March 6, 2023
4 inquirer.net, March 8, 2023
5 gmanetwork.com, March 5, 2023
6 bworldonline.com, Nov. 3, 2022
7 hrw.org/news, Sept. 12, 2022
8 pna.gov.ph, June 19, 2021
9 hrw.org, Jan. 27, 2023
10The Philippine Star, March 6, 2023
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.