What’s happening to our country?

ON JULY 21, 1982, former senator and former Vice President Emmanuel Pelaez was ambushed in his car in Quezon City. He took six bullets but miraculously survived. His driver was not as fortunate. At the emergency room of the hospital, Pelaez turned to Quezon City Police Chief Gen. Tomas Karingal who had rushed to his side.
“What is happening to our country?” Pelaez asked.
If Pelaez had expected Karingal to respond to the question with a solution to the crisis, the lawman apparently could not. Less than two years later, Karingal himself was shot dead by three unidentified men while he was dining in a restaurant in his own jurisdiction.
That pained query from one of the highest officials in the land continues to reverberate to this day. Perhaps, even more so. The killings in Metro Manila and all over the country – many of them perpetrated by assassins riding in tandem on a motorcycle – may have already become an epidemic for which there does not seem to be an immediate cure.
Here’s the bloody scorecard:as reported by the media in only the past three months:
1. On June 12, race car driver Enzo Pastor was gunned down in Quezon City.
2. On the same day, hotel chain owner Richard King was killed in Davao.
3. Also on the same day, businessman Jason Chua was shot and killed at the corner of FB Harrison and Pablo Ocampo in Manila.
4. On June 7, Mayor Ernesto Balolong, Jr. of Urbiztondo, Pangasinan was murdered on the eve of his wedding anniversary and the wedding of his son.
5. On May 13, in Quiapo, Laurette Tollosa was found dead in her Ford Explorer, the victim of foul play.
6. On May 11, two days earlier, gunmen on a motorcycle went on a seemingly random killing spree, resulting in five fatalities, almost all unconnected with each other.
7. On May 4, a broadcast journalist, Richard Nadjib, was killed in Tawi-Tawi.
8. On April 7, two men shot and killed a tabloid reporter and radio blocktime program host, Rubylita Garcia, in Bacoor, Cavite.
9. On April 1, four persons were killed in separate incidents: Jayson Siao was murdered in General Santos; businessman James Pardo was shot and killed in Pasay City; Ray Tunica was killed in Barangay Talisay in Quezon City; and a policeman, Gerardo Garcia, was rubbed out in his own house in Caloocan City,
The modus operandi isn’t new. The tactic of two men on a motorbike, one driving and the other pumping lead, has been the method of choice for years, going back to the days of the Alex Boncayao Brigade. It allows for a quick getaway even in the worst traffic situation and the crash helmet-wearing killers are hard to identify.
What is new is the frequency of killings and the brazen way the murders have been carried out. It’s as if the killers are not at all worried that they will ever be brought to justice.
It should be obvious by now why murders-for-hire – which is what many of the killings most probably are – have been rampant. First of all, it costs so little to put out a contract on a person’s life.
According to an online posting of Human Rights Watch, former members of the dreaded Tagum death squad revealed that P5,000 was all it took per contract and that would still be split among the hitmen. That’s less than the cost of a wagyu steak dinner with trimmings.
With poverty being a great motivator – enough for some people to want to sell their own kidney or even one eye – there is obviously a surplus of willing would-be hitmen.
But the other great motivator is the perception that one can literally get away with murder. That one can pump bullets into somebody’s head and ride off into the night, with no one able or willing or motivated or trained or equipped to bring him to justice.
Death squads are also not necessarily criminal elements in the traditional sense. Some of them are organized by local government officials under the guise of maintaining law and order.
In the latter case, the ones on the extermination short list are the criminals themselves, suspected drug pushers, petty thieves and even vagrants and the dregs of the community. In such a case, the killings are discreetly and even openly applauded and encouraged by a citizenry anxious to see peace and order reign – even under a reign of terror.
This is supposed to explain the popularity of Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, such that he actually believes it is enough to catapult him to the presidency of the country.
The national government has been accused of looking the other way amidst reports of these extra-judicial killings. During her incumbency, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo publicly lauded Gen. Jovito Palparan, despite being branded The Butcher by human rights activists
Of course, when disposing of human beings becomes a habit and a means of livelihood, it’s the easiest thing to widen the scope of contracts to include political enemies, pesky members of media, intended hostage victims and prey for extortion or blackmail.
Expectedly, from Malacañang palace, we have heard the usual refrain that the government will not let the killers get away and that they will be brought to justice.
But the question is how?
This is obviously the responsibility of the Philippine National Police and above it, the Department of Interior and Local Government. Knowing the capabilities of the PNP and the unimpressive record of performance of the current DILG head, Mar Roxas, one can only raise an eyebrow at the reassurances being given by the spokesmen of the president.
Of course, even a more competent manager would have difficulty with the odds he would face in fighting crime. It just makes matters worse when the DILG secretary was appointed mainly for political reasons, to give him access to local governments and to funds with which to prime the provincial officials for the next presidential elections.
Tracking down and identifying the assailants in a killing, pulled off with the stealth and speed of a tandem on motorbikes, is daunting enough as it is. But when you consider the kind of manpower that the PNP has, the limited training at detective work that their crime specialists have and the equipment and facilities that they have on hand, they can only depend on luck to solve a murder.
Or they can depend on something that our country’s lawmen are known to be very good at: access to the grapevine.
Some years back, when Senator Juan Ponce Enrile’s van was stolen, it didn’t take too long to recover it. The word was simply put out in the streets that there would be hell to pay if the vehicle was not returned.
Criminals don’t like the law getting in their way and they like it the least when they get picked up for a crime somebody else committed. It is said that when a cop is out for blood, he simply picks up everyone in sight and threatens to salvage the fellow until someone in the grapevine sings.
This is quite likely where Davao’s Duterte has been effective. But then, can we actually expect an ivy-league son-of-a-haciendero to get down and dirty in putting a stop to the crime wave?
If Noynoy Aquino really wants to put a stop to the crime wave, he should pull off Ping Lacson from his Yolanda assignment and assign him to DILG.
Otherwise, we might as well paraphrase what Manny Pelaez asked: “What will happen to our country?”

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(gregmacabenta@hotmail.com)

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