If eight out of 145 crimes have been solved, and in most cases no thanks to you, should you be crowing about it? Eight out of 145 is about three percent of the total cases of journalists and media workers killed in this country, but the Philippine National Police (PNP) nevertheless thinks that that shameful record is to its credit.
The PNP also insists that “only” 48 journalists have been killed in the Philippines since 1986, on the argument—which Aquino administration spokespersons cite as well—that some of those killed were “only” drivers and other media workers, while others were not journalists, and were killed for various non-work related reasons.
Media workers are essential to the work journalists do, thus their inclusion in the list of journalists killed. Those who do journalistic work—i.e., reporting or doing commentary on an event or issue of public significance—qualify as journalists, and it is not for the PNP to say whether they’re journalists or not, but for these individuals’ peers and the communities where they live and work.
The lists of journalists and media workers killed kept by journalists’ and media advocacy groups distinguish between those killed for their work and for non-work related reasons. And whether killed for their work as journalists or not, isn’t solving the murder of anyone a police responsibility, and every killing that’s unresolved an indication of the PNP’s—and the entire justice system’s—ineptitude?
In any event, eight cases solved, assuming that it’s indeed thanks to the PNP, is still low, that number being less than ten percent of the PNP’s claimed 48. Nevertheless, the PNP spokesperson declared early this week that the PNP has made “significant headway” in solving the killing of journalists and media workers, claiming that it was the investigation conducted by Task Force Usig—a unit of the PNP’s Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management created during the Arroyo administration to investigate the killing of journalists and media workers as well as that of victims of extrajudicial killings (EJKs)—that led to the “successful prosecution” of the killers of journalists Marlene Esperat, Edgar Damalerio, Klein Cantoneros, Armando Pace, Rowel Endrinal, Gerardo Ortega, and Arecio Padrigao.
The suggestion that these cases were “solved” because the PNP is so dedicated to finding the killers is as false as its presumption that it can tell who’s a journalists and who’s not. Media and journalists’ organizations have had to cajole and appeal to some of the highest officials of the civilian and police bureaucracy to force the police to do their job of investigating and apprehending the assassins. The creation of Task Force Usig was itself the result of those efforts, while the killers of Marlene Esperat were identified and convicted through the work of media and journalists’ organizations, which not only campaigned to get them arrested, but also helped in their prosecution.
Then there’s the fact that some of the killers of journalists have themselves been military and police personnel. Guillermo Wapile, the killer of Edgar Damalerio, was at the time of Damalerio’s killing a policeman in the active service. He was arrested only through the efforts of media and journalists’ groups, and after a witness to the murder had himself been killed. Wapile had earlier eluded arrest by simply disappearing in a police camp in Pagadian City under the protection of a high police official. Only through the combined efforts of several media organizations and advocacy groups was he eventually arrested, tried and convicted.
In none of the eight cases has the suspected mastermind been arrested and tried, despite warrants of arrest and hold departure orders to prevent them from leaving the country. For example, the suspected masterminds in the killing of Marlene Esperat are back at work in the Department of Agriculture, while those suspected of masterminding the killing of Gerardo Ortega have managed to flee to other jurisdictions.
A PNP press release declares that “The PNP is committed to reduce by 50 percent the incidence of street crimes in major areas of Metro Manila and in other highly-urbanized cities of the country and to increase by 5 percent Crime Clearance and Crime Solution Efficiencies in time for the Philippines’ hosting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Summit in 2015.”
“The 2015 PNP commitments,” it continues, “are expected to contribute in the attainment of peaceful, orderly and safer communities—an indispensable factor for sustainable economic development, social order and political stability—for the promotion of the Philippines as progressive and competitive investment and tourism site.”
What about those areas of the country which are not “highly urbanized,” where most of the killings of journalists, including the Ampatuan Massacre, took place and are continuing? And is the point in reducing crime to “promote the Philippines as a progressive and competitive investment and tourism site”?—or even for the sake of “sustainable development, social order and political stability”? Or quite simply and basically to assure the safety and security of the people?
The same PNP press release does manage—inadvertently of course—to suggest to us what its fundamental role has always been in this country, and that’s to keep the lid on social unrest. It’s there in that part where the press release declares its job to be that of assuring peaceful communities for the sake of “social order.” This gem of a press release goes on to say that “The PNP has achieved significant milestones in its transformation journey, devoting extensive resources and effort to bring about positive change in the country. With renewed focus and commitment, the PNP will continue to transform to be a highly capable, effective and credible police service, that the country rightly deserve (sic) and be truly proud of (sic).”
What, pray tell, are these milestones that are transforming the PNP from its present image as an inefficient and corrupt institution whose expertise is beating confessions out of poor suspects and protecting the powerful? Its own press release doesn’t say. The most that it can do is cite a welter of alleged initiatives couched in some of the worst bureaucratic gibberish ever devised that doesn’t even sound halfway meaningful on paper, and with no earthly connection to the fundamentals of police responsibilities anywhere. Those responsibilities are to investigate crimes, arrest those likely to have committed them, and build the cases against them.
In the Philippine setting these fundamentals have assumed a terrible urgency in the context not only of the unremitting killing of journalists and media workers (25 killed for their work under the Aquino III administration, 17 others for other reasons) and human rights defenders, social and political activists, environmentalists, reformist local officials, judges and lawyers, as well as clergymen, but also in the plague of such crimes as the rapes, kidnappings, hold-ups, assaults and murders that make life in these parts, already burdened as it is with corrupt officials, poverty, human rights violations and injustice, a veritable hell on earth. But leave it to the police, as with every other government institution in these isles of fear, to substitute words for action, and bureaucratese for deeds.
First published in BusinessWorld.