WHILE committing our country to the global war on terrorism, President Aquino will do well to also devote some of his attention and energies instead to stopping the wave of killings and assassinations of the nation’s judges—a problem that is as real and immediate as the latest reports from Paris and elsewhere.
This menace at home strikes at the heart of President Aquino’s claim of good governance under his watch. It has sown fear among our people and local communities because it is the nation’s magistrates and justices of the peace—the men of the law themselves—who are being gunned down in broad daylight and whose murders cry for closure.
The assassination last Sunday in Northern Samar of Judge Reynaldo Espinar, presiding judge of the municipal circuit trial court of Laoang and Gamay, Northern Samar, brings to three the number of judges who have been murdered this year alone.
Before Judge Espinar’s murder, gunmen ambushed and killed earlier this month Judge Wilfredo Nieves of the regional trial court in Malolos, Bulacan while he was on his way home from work. (This case had a strange twist this Monday when the arrested suspect was shot dead when he allegedly tried to grab the firearm of one of his police escorts.)
Last September, another RTC judge, Erwin Alaba of Baler, Aurora, was murdered by still unidentified gunmen right outside his office.
Alarmed by these naked assaults on the judiciary, the Supreme Court, through Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno, has decided to launch its own investigation into the wave of killings and assassinations. It has named its youngest member, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, to head a body to investigate the recent murders of judges.
Leonen will join forces with appropriate agencies of government in addressing the problem. He will discuss with them the creation of a task force that will spearhead the investigation of the killings and assassinations, determine the root causes behind the violence, and effect the arrest of the perpetrators.
The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) will constitute a key part of the task force. It has named the deputy director for regional operations as head of the task force.
The NBI’s probe will seek to determine the motive for Espinar’s murder, look at the cases he was handling, and reports that he had been receiving death threats before he was killed.
The same in-depth attention should be given the other murders.
The high court has understandably condemned all the killings and called on law enforcement agencies to arrest the perpetrators.
But clearly mere condemnation of the murders is not enough. Beyond solving the killings individually, greatly needed is a deeper understanding of the problem and of the underlying reasons why violence against magistrates is more rampant today than in the past.
This is why President Aquino must himself address the problem directly, instead of just assuming that our law enforcement forces and criminal justice system will do the job of stopping the menace.
At a time when he is much concerned about his presidential legacy, we submit that he should be more concerned about proving himself.
Until Mr. Aquino became President, the nation had not faced the kind of crime wave and as many murders with impunity as we are facing now.
Besides the assassination of judges, we must also decry the appalling murder with impunity of journalists under this Administration.
In a word, law and order is breaking down across the archipelago. Criminality is on the march.
Our citizenry, and members of the government service, especially members of the judiciary, stand helpless before the menace.
President Aquino has often boasted to the nation and to the world that “good governance” is the chief achievement of his Administration. That claim is given the lie by the panorama of crime hounding our society.
Maintaining law and order and keeping the peace is the first duty of government.
Governance fails when there is no law and no order. Government and the people together must address the problem with a sense of urgency and outrage.
The problem must be faced down and subdued.
The requisite campaign for law and order should be sweeping and unsparing. It should beware of speaking of the comparative importance of the different victims of criminal violence. All the victims and their families cry for justice.
All deserve to find closure.
This campaign, we dare say, is more urgent and worthy of action than the President’s proclaimed interest in joining the war on terrorism. This is where we should spend our money on first.
Responsibility begins at home.