Monkey in the driver’s seat

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THE December 16 Metro Manila bus disaster in which 22 people lost their lives and 20 more were injured was far from unique. On the same day, in Badian, Cebu, a drunken bus driver lost control of his vehicle while negotiating a curve and killed several people, including his own wife and daughter. Barely two months ago, on October 9, a bus collided with a truck in Atimonan, Quezon, and smashed into two other buses, two cargo trucks, a trailer truck and a van that were going in the other direction. Twenty people were killed and 54 others were injured.

In 2010, a bus crash in Balamban, Cebu, killed 21 people and injured 26 others. A journalist and member of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication Journalism Faculty, Chit Estella, was killed by a speeding bus along Quezon City’s Commonwealth Avenue in 2011 that rammed the taxicab she was in. Although Estella was the only casualty in that crash, her death cost the country one of its leading journalists.

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Impunity

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THE phrase is of recent vintage, but the reality behind it isn’t. Like most of the horrors that afflict Filipinos, the culture of impunity, or exemption from punishment so common it has become routine, has been a fact of their lives since the datus betrayed their own people by collaborating with the Spaniards in the conquest of these isles.

In the course of that bloody process and after, entire barangay were put to the torch and their inhabitants to the sword. Not only did those responsible escape punishment; they were also rewarded, and their deeds hailed as part of God’s plan and work.

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Heralds of impunity

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A SIGNATORY to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Philippines has sent a delegation to Geneva, Switzerland to attend the second cycle of the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the human rights situation of the Philippines since 2008 when it was last reviewed.

The May 29, 2012 review of Philippine compliance with the above covenants, and with its own commitment to implement 11 out of 17 recommendations by the member-States of the UN Human Rights Council in 2008, came a week after the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged UN member-states to “see through the Philippine government’s rhetoric and question the lack of progress on accountability over the past four years.”

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Tattered democracy

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THE PHILIPPINE ranking fell from 122nd in 2009 to 156th in the Paris-based Reporters San Frontieres’ (RSF- Reporters Without Borders) 2010 Press Freedom Index released on October 20.

The 2010 Index covers the period September 1, 2009 to September 1, 2010. The Philippine ranking had been rising in earlier RSF Indexes, despite the continuing killing of journalists in the country, and its portrayal in 2003 as “the most murderous place in the world for journalists.”

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Impunity’s roots

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IMPUNITY — OR exemption from punishment — has been correctly called a culture, a way of doing things to which a particular community has become accustomed. It is almost inevitably mentioned as the primary reason why journalists and political activists continue to be killed in the Philippines, where a culture of impunity has indeed taken root. But it also applies with equal validity to the killing of nearly everyone else, especially the poor and powerless. Few murders in this country are ever really solved, with the perpetrators and masterminds being arrested, tried and punished.

Contrary to the common perception that only the wealthy and powerful literally get away with murder, it also happens even to the poorest folk. If the wealthy and well-connected can evade punishment by hiring crafty lawyers, and bribing policemen, prosecutors and judges, those who are otherwise, if they’re lucky enough, can escape the law by simply disappearing in the vast countryside that surrounds the cities, or in the anonymous warrens and labyrinthine slums the poorest call home. Police inefficiency and reluctance to hunt down killers, if the victims are “not important” and won’t be missed except by their closest kin, does the rest.

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