Gunmen slaughtering criminal suspects

Apart from killing human rights and social activists, gunmen in the southern Philippines are carrying out the systematic slaughter of persons accused of involvement in criminal activities and even some who have been the victims of crimes. Dozens have died in such incidents.

In a span of three months 29 persons, five of whom were minors, have been reported murdered in separate shooting incidents in General Santos City. This figure is a small fraction of the actual number of killings, most of which remain undocumented. The gunmen, usually armed with .45 caliber pistols and riding on motorcycles, go out on shooting sprees and take out their targets with complete impunity.

This pattern is also occurring in the neighboring cities of Davao and Digos, all in Mindanao. The murder of persons with criminal records or thought to be involved in criminal activities is commonplace in these two cities. Such incidents seem to provoke no reaction among the people, regardless of the number of deaths, the way the victims are slaughtered, or their youth.

The effects of this mental conditioning are insidious; even government officials, who are charged with protecting their constituents’ lives and property, have openly and publicly endorsed the killing of those involved in crimes. In these cities all sense of the value of human lives and the people’s right to protection has been lost, along with the notions of due process and equal protection under the law.

Before the recent escalation of shooting incidents in General Santos City there was a rise in motorcycle thefts, with their owners sometimes killed by thieves in the process of grabbing their motorcycles. This has continued unabated since the latter part of 2007. Of the 29 cases mentioned above, eight were motorcycle drivers. Apart from these, a reliable source estimates that last January alone at least 10 motorcycle drivers were killed during robberies.

How did the police, local officials, the media and the community react to these repeated cases of motorcycle robberies and the murder of their drivers?

Almost daily, radio announcers and newspaper editorials attacked the police for their inability to solve such cases. The police responded by giving an ultimatum to their field commanders, who then drew up a list of persons suspected of involvement. Some of the people on such lists have subsequently been killed, but the police deny any hand in this.

Apparently due to disbelief that the perpetrators would ever be held accountable lawfully, some media personalities crossed the ethical boundaries of broadcast journalism by suggesting it was better to kill robbers than allow them to prey on motorcycle drivers. They described the criminals either as unworthy to live or are heartless beasts.

Such worthless and unintelligible debate has in fact been to the advantage of the police, as they could easily and conveniently exonerate themselves from any responsibility. Their powers and functions, which are clearly stipulated in Republic Act 6975, section 24, have been diluted and they have never been held to account. The police are supposed to ensure the protection of lives and property, ensure public safety, and investigate and prevent these crimes.

The murders of alleged criminals and those suspected of motorcycle thefts began in early March, and have continued almost every day. The desire for revenge against these people was bound to wane after so many people have fallen victim to murderers, including many innocents. Even local journalists, who earlier espoused or acquiesced in the murder of alleged criminals, now feel they have had enough. Radio and tabloid reporters describing the gory slaughter of dozens of persons, including children and the elderly, have started to feel the numbing effect of such violence.

Hopefully these feelings will cause people to reflect on what they have been doing, and realize that depriving a person of his or her life on the mere suspicion of committing a crime is unjust and can never be an expedient to solving crimes. It is not too late for the people of this city to recover from the collapse of law enforcement and administration of justice, it they pool their actions for the common good.

The police and local government are ultimately responsible for their failure to protect lives and property in allowing the slaughter of alleged criminals and robbery victims. The victims of motorcycle robberies have mindlessly been accused of enticing robbers, and thus deserving the deaths meted out by murderers.

Prosecution of these cases may be impractical given the lack of witnesses willing to cooperate. However, this does not justify turning a blind eye to the murder of suspects without affording them the protection of the law.

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Filed under Human Rights, Killing of criminals, Police

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