I WAS in Cebu on Sunday, celebrating with a couple of hundred other guests the 50th wedding anniversary of Dodong and Diane Limchua, servant leaders of the “Oasis of Love” Catholic community in the Visayas and Mindanao, when I first heard of the massacre of Ozamiz City Mayor Reyaldo Parojinog Sr. and 14 others in the hands of the Misamis Occidental police. The solemnity of the Holy Eucharist and the renewal of marriage vows at the San Pedro Calungsod chapel, with Archbishops Jose Palma of Cebu, Romulo de la Cruz of Zamboanga, John Du of Palo, and several other archbishops, bishops and priests from the Visayas and Mindanao concelebrating, and Monsignor John Thomas Limchua, the couple’s favorite nephew who is the First Secretary to the Papal Nuncio in Cairo, delivering a moving homily on faithfulness, prevented any hint of the story from casting a shadow on the celebration.
But at our dinner table at Radisson Hotel, the story of the killing burst upon us like an unbidden guest. The carnage was simply on everyone’s lips. None of us knew then what we know now, but the story prompted one elderly gentleman to exclaim, how “unreal” our society had become. I thought “unreal” was hardly the word for it, but in the absence of a better word, it seemed to fill the bill. Out of the 8,000 or so suspects reportedly killed in President Rodrigo Duterte’s year-long brutal drug war, only a few had stood out for their sheer unusual circumstances. This was the third incident, in which a mayor had been killed by the police after having been listed by the President as a narco-politician.
Three high-profile killings
On October 28, 2016, Mayor Samsudin Dimaukom of Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao, and his five bodyguards were killed in a “shootout” with narcotics agents in Makilala, North Cotabato. Nothing more was heard of this case.
Then on November 5, 2016, Mayor Rolando Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte was gunned down at 4 a.m. inside his detention cell at the sub-provincial jail in Baybay, Leyte by a police team that had motored from Tacloban City, allegedly to serve him a search warrant. The National Bureau of Investigation called the killing a “rubout,” but the raiding party, led by police Supt. Marvin Marcos, claimed it was a “shootout.” President DU30 took the side of the police, and the original murder charge against Marcos and his men was downgraded to homicide, and Marcos is now facing possible promotion to the next higher grade, instead of a criminal sentence.
Now, in the wee hours of Sunday, July 30, the Misamis Occidental police swooped down on three houses belonging to the Parojinogs. They were reportedly met with gunfire, a claim denied by the Parojinogs’ legal counsel, and in the reported “exchange,” the 60-year-old mayor, his wife Susan, his brother Octavio Jr., his sister Mona, and 11 others were killed. The mayor’s daughter, Ozamiz vice mayor Nova Princess Echavez, and her brother Reynaldo Jr. were arrested during the operations.
The police claimed to have recovered about P1.4 million in cash (which was not the object of the search warrant), half a kilo of suspected “shabu” (methamphetamine), and illegal firearms from the vice mayor’s residence. The news reports failed to mention the firearms allegedly used by Parojinog’s security men in trying to prevent the police from entering the premises at 2.30 a. m.
The massacre put the brutal drug war and Philippine National Police Chief Ronald (Bato) de la Rosa back into the news cycle, after having been sidelined the last two-and-a-half months by the siege in Marawi, which prompted DU30 on May 23 to proclaim martial law and suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the whole of Mindanao; the fighting there between the government troops and the Islamic State-inspired Maute militant group is now on its third month.
De la Rosa welcomed the Ozamiz massacre with a warning to the public to expect more such killings, involving alleged “narco politicians”. This should strike terror into the hearts of politicians who have been put on the DU30 list without having been given the chance to challenge the accusation or the evidence. This appears to be the case of former Marawi City Mayor Omar “Solitario” Ali and former Cebu City mayor Mike Rama, whom DU30 has not removed from his “list” of suspects, despite the lack of palpable evidence against them.
I read Solitario’s recent signed article in The Manila Times, and Time magazine’s even more recent report on his effort to help DU30 talk to the Mautes. I have also spoken to Rama a few times, the latest being last Sunday. I cannot understand why they remain on the list, despite their apparent non-involvement in the alleged crime. It appears that once you are included in DU30’s list, no accuser has to prove your guilt anymore; you are simply expected to “prove your innocence.” This is the exact opposite of what the Bill of Rights says.
Section 14, Article III of the Constitution provides:
“(1) No person shall be held liable to answer for a criminal offense without due process of law.
“(2) In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved, and shall enjoy the right to be heard by himself and counsel, to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him, to have a speedy, impartial, and public trial, to meet the witness face to face, and to have compulsory process to secure the attendance of witnesses and the production of evidence in his behalf…”
This is the very right denied the mayors and all those suspects who have been summarily killed.
Rightly or wrongly, there seems to be a growing public impression that the police have developed the habit of planting evidence on suspects they would like to eliminate.
An incident in Talisay
Lito Ruiz, a 57-year-old Cebuano who was undersecretary of local government from 2006 to 2010, and who campaigned for DU30 in the last elections, complained to me that on May 17, some 30 police SWAT units descended on his younger brother Danilo’s 30 square meter home in Talisay, Cebu, planted a gun and some sachets of “shabu” inside, photographed the same as “evidence,” then hauled him to jail for his alleged crimes.
Lito said they asked him where he was hiding his “millions,” not knowing that he was as poor as a rat, and had to ask the Public Attorney’s Office to provide him a lawyer to represent him. Lito said the police also planted some Armalite bullets on his motorbike, which was standing outside his brother’s home, but hesitated to do anything more when they learned it belonged to him. But one policeman tried to compel his brother to implicate him in his alleged “crimes,” the former DILG official said.
The Makilala, Baybay and Ozamiz high-profile killings, and the cheers they got from DU30’s fanatical supporters, who might have been honored to award the killers with medals and decorations, are just one sign that our society is rapidly coming unstuck and unraveling. The center may not be able to hold much longer. A barefoot journalist who has just come home from abroad after talking to friends in the US and Europe for a few weeks said, “we have become a rogue state, as far as qualified international opinion is concerned, except that we do not know it yet, nor do we seem to care.”
He cited Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano’s declaration, about which I wrote in my July 31 column, that the Chinese missiles, which DU30 says are now pointed at our gut from the structures China has built in the Spratlys within our exclusive economic zone, are meant strictly for self-defense. This is not based on any threat assessment, and constitutes an abject surrender, a priori, beyond mere appeasement.
But DU30 must carry Cayetano on his shoulders, my friend pointed out. Since DU30 says the Chinese missiles are already pointing at us, and could reach Manila in seven minutes, my friend would like to know, as I’m sure all other Filipinos would like to know, how did DU30 get hold of that information? And what is he doing to protect the nation from such threat? Has he confronted the Chinese on this on his last visit? Has he threatened to unleash the fury of the US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty if the Chinese did not dismantle those missiles? Has he shared this information with the National Security Council, the Mutual Defense Board, or even the top brass of the Philippine defense establishment? Or did he, like Cayetano, assure the Chinese that it is perfectly all right, that we are not offended nor threatened by their “self-defense missiles”?
Taiwan’s Mirror Media recently reported that a Taiwanese medical doctor has been coming to Manila every week to check on DU30’s medical condition, using the “Pulse Treatment” and herbal preparations. The report apparently caught Malacañang’s attention, prompting presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella and Martin Andanar to deny the story. My own Palace sources support the denial, pointing out that any dealing with Taiwan, even for health reasons, could entail a violation of the One China policy, and affect DU30’s ties with Beijing. If any Chinese doctor has to see DU30 on a regular basis, it would have to be someone from mainland China, the sources said.
Reacting to a story I had written earlier this year, DU30 admitted having visited Fuda Cancer Hospital in Guangzhou, but only for the repair of his childhood “circumcision.” The President’s health has been improving since then, the sources said, and he’s even started issuing medical bulletins not on his own health but on the supposed colon cancer of communist leader Jose Maria Sison. This could be one reason why he doesn’t feel threatened by any Chinese missiles, my friend said. But if this be the case, then there could be more reason to worry that the center may not be able to hold much longer.