From eyewitnesses’ accounts, you could surmise that tens – if not hundreds already by the time this story sees print – have perished in the Antipolo episode of the Duterte war against drugs.
Tragic as they are, the killings are made even more deplorable by the fact that they occurred in a place that has prided itself as the country’s pilgrimage city. Readers of Dr. Jose Rizal will recognize how the hero had glowing words for Antipolo in Noli Me Tangere, describing it as the favorite vacation spot both of the country’s elites and ordinary folks in the olden days of the Spanish colonial rule. Today, Antipolo remains the Mecca of Catholic devotees who on Sundays flock to the Antipolo Cathedral to worship the Patron Saint, Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage. On Holy Thursday, thousands trek to the cathedral in observance of the lenten season; on May 1 just as many participate in a walkathon to the city called Alay Lakad; and on weekends, Antipolo City is a haven for bikers, picknickers and churchgoers. Car owners traditionally bring their new vehicles to the city and have them blessed with holy water from the church.
How can such a lovely idyll and romance transform in one fell swoop into the killing field that it is now?
Just days ago, a tricycle driver matter-of-factly pulled up his vehicle to the side to unload a passenger, who in a cool manner pumped a bullet to the driver’s head, throwing him in spasms on the pavement before dying. This calls to mind the Olalia and Alay-ay killings in 1986, because the shooting of the tricycle driver happened in the immediate vicinity where the bodies of the salvage victims were dumped. And being recalled now, the rubout of Olalia and Alay-ay relates to the ongoing Antipolo carnage at least in one respect. Those killings were just two, but they created such a noise as to cause, to say the least, the renaming of a road. Yet the ongoing killings in my neighborhood, let alone the now-countless others all over Antipolo, are beginning to become innumerable as well, and yet no one seems to be doing anything about them.
Not the Catholic priest who goes about the nitty-gritty of saying masses and doing other church services, like christening babies, wedding sweethearts and blessing new vehicles.
Not the Iglesia Ni Cristo minister whose only concern seems to consist of performing pangangasiwa on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, passing the collection bag around at the end of each pagsamba, and then visiting kapatids who have been consistently missing out on the blessings of God during worship.
Not the preacher of other Christian denominations busy with collecting ikapos and soliciting donations in little Bible expositions in public parks and marketplaces.
Neither any of the big business entrepreneurs engrossed in their respective commercial concerns nor the lowly sari-sari store owners who are hard put at trying to make maximum profits from small investments.
The daily flow of luxury vehicles through that corner of Assumption Road and Sumulong Highway, bearing the rich girls of Assumption in their travel to and from school, clogs the traffic in this intersection, completely unperturbed by the fact that vigilantes have been killing hapless people in their path.
The lawyer chairman of a legal group rendering free legal services has been quoted in press stories as proclaiming that while in the beginning the Duterte anti-drugs campaign has cowed people to the extent of them swallowing extrajudicial killings lock, stock and barrel, today the people have begun shedding off their cowardice, voicing their protests out in the streets.
A semblance of truth to this does appear in Metro Manila maybe. But not in Antipolo. The hooded gunmen are enjoying a heyday, no longer confining their attacks to nighttime but doing it with as much impunity in the evening as in the day.
In broad daylight, at 2 p.m., in the extremely crowded intersection of Marcos Highway and the road leading to Gate 2 of Cogeo village, a barker for the UV Express vans parked in that terminal was casually shot dead by an assailant, who motors away with his companion just as casually, brimming with confidence.
But for a moment of curiosity over the fallen victim, none among the crowd appears to give a hoot.
You call that people unafraid.
The opposite is true.
Extrajudicial killings have so cowed the people that as long as they are not the ones hit by a bullet, they don’t give a damn that vigilantes are doing the rounds of Antipolo streets, carrying out their assignments in wild abandon.
And this is the truly fearsome thing about extrajudicial killings. They are getting institutionalized in people’s mind. They are getting accepted as a necessity for solving the ills of society. Is this true? Duterte apologists flaunt that those not involved in drugs need not be afraid because people involved in drugs are the targets. But as the Antipolo incidents bear out in a number of cases, vigilante bullets no longer discriminate. The vigilantes fire at will, at random, never mind who gets hit.
Nobody has ever raised this issue, so I am raising it now. Has the police ever hailed a vigilante to court, or arrested one? There’s not a single case on record.
Finally, figure this out. Antipolo was having none of the spate of killings that began that Monday when a balut vendor was shot dead in Barangay San Isidro. What took place that Monday in government? The complete swap of police forces between Antipolo City and Dasmariñas, Cavite.
Do we still need to ask who did the untrammeled extrajudicial killings in Antipolo? Between the killing vigilantes and the police in Antipolo now, what is the difference?