By Sen. Richard J. Gordon
26 April 2005
Mr. President, esteemed colleagues, it is good to see that we are all still here today, because at the rate that lives are being taken in this country, it seems that survival is just a matter of luck.
Leticia Ramos, an officer in the strategic planning and policy section of the DFA, went out of her house at 5:30 am to sweep their front yard. Three men pounced on her, tied and gagged her and proceeded inside the house where they strangled her sister DFA ssistant Secretary and a good friend of mine Alicia Ramos, right in her own bedroom.
Yesterday morning, a doctor at the prime of his life, Dr. Nicolo Echiverri, a relative of Mayor Enrico Echiverri of Caloocan City and the son-in-law of Arsenio Abalos, brother of Commission on Elections Chair Benjamin Abalos was shot dead by armed men while driving his car in Mandaluyong City. The killers reportedly walked away after peppering his car with gunfire, making sure that he would not survive, before forcibly taking a tricycle away from the scene of the
crime. Police recovered 15 shells of .45-caliber pistols at the site where Echiverri slumped after he was shot.
On September 11, 2004, Alisa Macawaris, a 26-year old young lady was on her way to work at 5:30 in the afternoon, when she was attacked by two holduppers in Quezon City who tried to grab her bag. The young lady fought back, so the two malefactors shot at her. She was taken to East Avenue Medical Center where she bravely but unsuccessfully tried to fight for her life. Witnesses say that the two men who shot her quickly escaped after the incident in a white Kolby taxi.
On March 13, 2004, Father William Tadeña, a priest of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) and a human rights defender was shot dead by two unidentified armed men who were riding on a motorcycle at the IFI church in Brgy. Guevarra, La Paz, Tarlac. He was in a jeep with his three companions at the time of the incident. Two of them, Carlos Barsolaso and Charlie Gabriel, were wounded during the shooting. Father Tadeña was a vocal supporter of the striking workers in Hacienda Luisita.
As the early as the 1960s at the height of the dreaded Octopus Gang, a certain Judge Valdez was kneeling at the communion rail of a church in Tacurong, Sultan Kudarat, when an assassin approached him from behind and calmly put a bullet in his head in full view of the priest and churchgoers and then calmly walked out of the church.
Mr. President, esteemed colleagues. I rise before you today on a matter of personal and collective privilege, to deliver a wake-up call. The season for killing has gone on too long, the killings have to stop. We must take a bite out of crime.
As the incidents that I have recounted will show, murderers in this country have no respect for anything, not age, not gender, not status, and not even for men of the cloth. It is proudly enshrined in Section 5 of Article II of the Philippine Constitution in our Declaration of Principles and State Policies that, and I quote:
"Sec. 5. The maintenance of peace and order, the protection of life, liberty and property, and the promotion of the general welfare are essential for the enjoyment by all the people of the blessings of democracy."
Our people are getting murdered on their way to work, in church, in their cars, and in their own bedrooms. Lives are taken in this country everyday, and we read about these murders in the front pages of the newspapers everyday. Our people are attacked in their own homes, in their own communities, and their murders remain unsolved.
Mr. President, when this representation delivered his maiden privilege speech on August 9, 2004, I spoke against the indiscriminate murders of journalists and judges and called for an investigation of the efforts of our national police to catch these murderers. More importantly, this representation called for an examination of the capability of the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation in terms of training and equipment to effectively carry out their duty to protect the citizenry. The Committee on Public Order chaired by our colleague, Senator Villar, conducted hearings where the PNP reported their efforts. Several days later, the front pages of the papers announced that his murderers have been captured. The wife of Judge Rosales, Nena Rosales, is with us here today in the gallery, and I found out when I spoke to her last night, that only the driver of the getaway vehicle had been caught, the shooter and the mastermind remain at large.
Mr. President, this is entirely unacceptable. Totally and entirely unacceptable. Do we not live in a republic, Mr. President? Do we not live in a democracy, Mr. President? Do we not have a government, Mr. President?
Even before we can even talk about the thousand and one exposés that we freely deliver here on this floor, should we not demand that our government fulfill the most fundamental of tasks of any government - the maintenance of peace and law and order?
No one, Mr. President, is safe.
We talk about how passing the Value Added Tax would improve our standing in the eyes of the global financial community. But what would the effect be if, for once and for all, we can truly bring criminals to justice?
Zamboanga Mayor Cesar Climaco was murdered by a lone gunman on Nov. 14, 1984, with a single .45 caliber shot to the back of the head, case unsolved.
In the middle of his term in Congress, Representative Espinosa was killed. His brother Tito Espinosa took the vacant seat in the 1992 elections. On February 28, 1995, a few weeks before the start of the campaign period, Tito himself was killed on his way to a celebration of the passage of an electoral reform bill, case unsolved, mastermind unknown.
Antique Governor Evelio Javier was gunned down on February 11, 1986. Naujan Vice-Mayor Jovy Magsino of Oriental Mindoro and her companion Lema Furto were also gunned down by motorcycle riding men on February 13, 2004, case unsolved, mastermind unknown. Tarangan Mayor Francisco Montero of Samar was shot and killed by two motorcycle riding men in Catbalogan City on April 3, 2004, as he was coming out of a hardware store case unsolved, mastermind unknown. Montero was elected vice mayor of Tarangan, but he was later appointed as mayor after the incumbent mayor, Anieto Olase, was gunned down on February 28 inside a cockpit, case unsolved, mastermind unknown.
Former three-time Mayor Conrado Rodrigo of San Nicolas, Pangasinan was shot dead by three motorcycle-riding men on May 27, 2004 as he walked home from a meeting, case unsolved, mastermind unknown.
On March 3, 2005, a young councilor from Tarlac, Abelardo Ladera was gunned down, case unsolved, mastermind unknown; and on April 13, 2005, former Congressman Henry Lanot was shot dead while having lunch in Jade Palace Restaurant in Pasig, case unsolved, mastermind unknown.
Judges and Lawyers
Our judges and lawyers have also been targeted by lawless elements in an attempt to undermine our judicial system.
Judge Milnar Lammawin of the Kalinga Regional Trial Court was shot at pointblank range by two gunmen riding a pick-up while he was buying bread from a bakeshop in Tabuk at about 6 p.m. August 9, 2004, case unsolved, mastermind unknown.
Judge Voltaire Rosales of the Regional Trial Court of Tanauan, Batangas, was ambushed and gunned down 30 meters away from the Hall of Justice in Tanauan on June 10, 2004, case unsolved, mastermind unknown.
Judge Paterno G. Tiamson, Executive Judge of RTC in Binangonan, Rizal, was stabbed to death on February 21, 2004, case unsolved, mastermind unknown.
Judge Pinera A. Biden of the Municipal Circuit of Kabugao, Apayao was lso shot and killed on May 17, 2003, case unsolved, mastermind unknown.
Judge Oscar Gaby M. Uson of the Tayug Regional Trial Court of Pangasinan on September 27, 2002, case unsolved, mastermind unknown.
Judge Eugenio R. Valles, Presiding Judge of RTC Branch 3, Nabunturan, Compostela Valley, was shot to death on April 24, 2002, case unsolved, mastermind unknown.
Judge Ariston L. Rubio, Presiding Judge of RTC Branch 17, Batac, Ilocos Norte, was shot to death on October 31, 2001, case unsolved, mastermind unknown.
Judge Hassan T. Ibnohajil, Presiding Judge of RTC Branch 45, San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, was killed on February 5, 2001, case unsolved, mastermind unknown.
Judge Celso F. Flores Sr. of the Borongan Regional Trial Court of Eastern Samar was also felled by gunshots on November 1, 1999, case unsolved, mastermind unknown.
Public Attorney's Office (PAO) lawyer, Atty. Teresita Vidamo, was killed on February 9, 2005 as she was about to board her car in front of her home Las Piñas City. She was felled by multiple gunshot wounds, case unsolved, mastermind unknown.
Atty. Reuel Dalguntas, and his nephew Garry Hopilena, were ambushed by motorcycle-riding gunmen at Panacan Bridge in Davao City at around 10 a.m. on February 5 while on their way to the downtown area. Dalguntas died while undergoing treatment at the San Pedro Hospital while Hopilena, who was driving the vehicle, died on the spot, case unsolved, mastermind unknown.
Atty. Felidito Dacut, a human rights lawyer and Bayan Muna coordinator, also succumbed to a single fatal gunshot on his upper body on March 14 of this year fired by two still unidentified perpetrators aboard a motorcycle. At the time of his death, Atty. Dacut was a pro-bono/pro-people human rights lawyer handling various human rights, agrarian and labor cases. The case is still open as investigation is underway to gather relevant data on this incident, another case unsolved, mastermind unknown.
Civil Society Workers
Members of civil society have also been targeted by these murderers.
Ben Concepcion, the Secretary General of the peasant group Aguman da reng Maglalautang Capampangan and coordinator of the Anakpawis political party was assassinated in Angeles City on March 17 of this year. The gunmen stormed Concepcion's house and drilled four gunshots into his body, case unsolved, mastermind unknown.
Marcing Beltran, a retired Army sergeant who joined and later became the provincial vice chairman of the party-list group Anakpawis, was also assassinated on 8 December 2004. He was shot dead by unidentified armed men in front of his house, four days before he was to testify before a congressional investigation into the strike dispersal that resulted in the death of seven and injury to hundreds of others, case unsolved, mastermind unknown.
Edwin Bargamento, auditor of the Philippine National Federation of Sugar Workers, was attacked by motorcycle-riding gunmen on his way home in the town of Manapla on Negros island. Mr Bargamento, 46, had just taken part in a street protest by the union in support of its bid for wage increases for sugar mill and plantation workers, case unsolved, mastermind unknown.
Our media practitioners have suffered the brunt of these assassinations. So many of our journalists have been assassinated that The International Federation of Journalists described the Philippines as the second to Iraq as the most deadly place in the world for journalists after 13 were murdered in 2004. To date, 86 have been killed in the country since 1986.
The most recent incidents involved Romy Sanchez, a radio broadcaster and Bayan Ilocos Secretary General who was assassinated on March 9, of this year, case unsolved, mastermind unknown. Another journalist, Marlene Garcia Esperat was killed on March 23, 2005 in front of her children in her home in Tacurong on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, case unsolved, mastermind unknown. So far four people have been arrested in connection with the murder but as yet no one has been charged with having been the mastermind.
Gene Boyd Lumawag, photo editor for MindaNews newspaper, was shot dead on a street in downtown Jolo on 12 November, 2004. He was returning to his hotel room after taking photos of the sunset at the nearby marina pier. The gunman fired one bullet killing Lumawag, 26, before leaving the scene. Days later, a task force was created specifically for the investigation into the slaying of Lumawag. The report of one eyewitness lead investigators to file a complaint on 17 November for two suspects, brothers Omar and Iting Sailani. MindaNews colleagues say Lumawag, 26, may have been in Jolo working on a corruption story with a journalist from Mindanao Island who was not present at Lumawag's attack and was safely refuged in a church shortly after. No motive has been established behind the killing of Lumawag though the Sailani brothers are reportedly on the most wanted list of Abu Sayyaf. Since the task force filed the complaint, no formal charges have been brought against Lumawag's suspected killers.
Mr. President, elected politicians represent the will of the people to choose their leaders. Journalists represent the freedom of our people to speak the truth. Judges represent our belief in the rule of law. Government officials represent the hope of our people in a better society. Religious leaders represent our belief that within all of us exists the spark of the divine. Students represent the
hope of their parents and future generations. And activists and opposition leaders represent the freedom to embrace different opinions from the powers that be. All these symbolize the fundamental values of our nation. Yet if even the leaders of our country, the symbols of our democracy, are freely shot and killed,
what nation do we truly have?
Mr. President, esteemed colleagues, I speak the names of the fallen, so that their names may be recorded and remembered within the halls of the Senate, that they may be remembered as people with families, doing their jobs, serving their country, instead of statistics to be resigned to the dustbin of history.
They are not faceless people, their families left behind grieve. They are not statistics. They are people, like you and I, with families, friends, memories, loves, passions, faith and hopes. In their deaths, we as a people die as well.
Our nation must be filled with rage at these murders but instead we suffer from a systemic case of neuristhinia, a neurosis that is identified with extreme lassitude and the inability to do anything but the most trivial things. It is about time for us to reflect on the implications of our apathy and helplessness in the face of these wanton murders on our character as a nation, and its consequences for our people, especially our children.
First, our citizens have become inured to crime. To be newsworthy, the crime must happen to a prominent figure. Yet every single day, there are crimes committed everyday against ordinary citizens that never quite make it to the news, because the commission of a crime is no longer newsworthy. Everyday cellular phones are stolen, bags and jewelry snatched, women are raped and ordinary people are murdered, and these crimes are treated as ordinary events that are a given in everyday life.
Second, unsolved crimes will foster a culture of vigilantism that give rise to vendettas and killer squads, who take the law into their own hands, because they believe that the law cannot bring them justice. We as a people came together in a social contract, giving up to the government our natural right to defend ourselves, in the expectation that government will protect us. That social contract is in tatters Mr. President. And we have none to blame but ourselves if
our people increasingly take justice into their own hands, if we remain impassive and try to divert attention to other things so as not to face reality. There was the case of Sonny Parsons in Marikina. His home was attacked by robbers twice, and on their second attack, because the police were unable to catch the first batch of robbers who invaded his home, he took his gun and came after the second batch of robbers, and had a shoot-out with them in the
streets. We cannot simply ban the gun. If people feel that the law cannot protect them, they will pack one and use it to protect themselves. What about going to the root of the problem? What about catching these criminals? What about running after the masterminds instead of the little fish?
Third, unsolved crimes make us cower in fear, and make the criminals invincible. Though our law enforcement agencies continuously try to apprehend these criminals, there is little public knowledge of their efforts, and even of their successes. As such, there is no public retribution against these criminals. Our people are bombarded every day with news of murders of local officials, judges, lawyers, media practitioners, civil society workers, policemen and ordinary citizens, but they have no information about what is being done to put a stop to it. When Ninoy Aquino was shot at the tarmac of the Manila International Airport, his death inspired a revolution. But almost two decades after his death, despite the fact that his wife became president, his brother and sister were senators, and yet the crime remains unsolved. The assassins got away with killing Ninoy Aquino, no wonder they kill Juan and Juana de la Cruz everyday.
The last and worst consequence of these wanton crimes is that it is shaping a mindset for a generation of Filipinos where murder is a normal, everyday occurrence. Our children see murder in the news everyday, depicted as just another event with about as much significance as a press conference.
Urie Bronfenbrenner, one of the foremost theorists on human development proposed the Ecological System Theory to explain the development of children which focuses primarily on the social contexts in which children live and the people who influence their development. Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Theory consists of five environmental systems that range from close interpersonal interactions to broad-based influences of culture. Bronfenbrenner calls the five systems the microsystem, mesosytem, exosystem, macrosystem, and chronosystem. The most encompassing of these systems is the chronosystem, which consists of the socio-historical conditions of a child's development. If we take a long, hard look at the socio-historical conditions to which our children are exposed today, what they see are crimes; crimes that go unpunished. If we are to raise a generation of law-abiding citizens, we must create an environment where it is absolutely clear that there is no room for lawlessness in our society. Otherwise, we will produce a generation of Filipinos who believe that the law is negotiable, or worse negligible.
Taking a Bite Out of Crime
It is easy enough to blame law enforcement agencies for their inability to catch lawbreakers, but the real responsibility to keep our nation and our communities safe, lie with all of us. Taking a bite out of crime will require every Filipino to wake-up from the slumber of helplessness and reclaim his or her community from criminals. Our national apathy has empowered criminals, and made sitting ducks of us all.
If we are to reclaim our nation from lawlessness, if we are to bring back respect for the law, our government must show political will, our law enforcers must exhibit dogged determination, and our people must become involved in combating the lawless elements in our country.
Paraphrasing a German cleric, "When Hitler took the Christians, I didn't complain, when Hitler took the Jews, I didn't complain, when Hitler knocked on my door, I could no longer complain."
Stopping crime must begin with the citizens. Communities must organize neighborhood watches, to enable every citizen to become a part of the conscious fight against crime. Let us make our people responsible for their own communities. As a democracy, when cases go to court, judges need evidence to convict these criminals. If we are to put these criminals away, let us find in ourselves the courage to stand up and testify when we witness crime, because we could be the next victims and the Senate must make the laws to make this happen.
Let the Senate call a summit against crime to indicate that it is a priority concern for us, and formulate policies that can be applied throughout the country by harnessing the expertise of people within and outside of our country, and their experience in the battle against crime.
Let us institutionalize the color-coding of jeeps and taxis for easier monitoring to ensure that our public transportation system is safe for our people and will not be used in the commission of crimes, like carnapped taxis that are used to hold-up passengers or as get away vehicles. We implemented this successfully in Olongapo. Criminals no longer use it because they can easily get the tricycles and jeeps
Let us implement the National ID Card System to facilitate the identification and apprehension of lawless elements in the country.
Let us take our law enforcement agencies to task, and demand results. Leticia Ramos was able to get away from her home to report the attack to the precinct, but by the time police arrived, it was too late. Crimes happen everyday within meters of police precincts. There are no deadlines for solving crimes. Let us re-examine the performance of our law enforcement agencies and our systems for fighting crime and fix whatever is wrong with it, instead of merely resigning ourselves to the fact that it doesn't work.
Finally, let us aim to provide a speedy administration of justice to assure our people that the law is able to protect them and to show criminals that the law will quickly subdue them. We have had a speedy trial law for seven years, and on paper are supposed to have had a continuous trial system for fifteen. Yet the lawyers among us know fully well that in reality we can examine a witness today, and opposing counsel will only conduct his cross-examination in a month
or two. Examining one witness alone will take at least six months. How much more if the case is complicated, and numerous pieces of evidence are involved? Our courts are barely able to make a dent into their backlog - in 2003, at the start of the year, there were 816,684 cases in inventory. At year's end, there were 811,274 cases left.
And yet if we truly wanted justice, if we truly demanded justice, trials can be quick, and the sword of justice can fall swiftly. During the last IPU Assembly here in Manila, a Belgian delegate, Mr. George Brion, was held-up by a tricycle driver named Victorio Mallari. Mr. Brion rode the tricycle to visit Baclaran Church. Upon receiving the report about this crime, which could have tarnished the reputation of the country among the IPU delegates, had it gone unsolved, this representation immediately acted to ensure that the perpetrator would be caught. Through the efforts of the Pasay Police, Mallari was caught on April 6, within 24 hours of the crime, which was committed on April 5. A case was filed against him the following day, and he was convicted by April 8 in the court room of Judge Pedro B. Corales of Pasay, just three days after his crime. In fact, Mr. Brion was able to testify and identify Mr. Mallari as the man who held him up. I strongly believe that the knowledge that his attacker was put to justice even before he left the country has made a strong positive impression on this Belgian delegate about the efficiency of our justice system to counteract whatever apprehensions he has after his negative experience.
Mr. President, esteemed colleagues, today I call for justice for the fallen. Let us not allow the deaths of our fallen countrymen; legislators, judges, civil society workers, media practitioners and ordinary citizens to be for naught. Let us foster and nurture a deep and sustained sense of outrage against those who would spit at the face of the law. Let us honor our fallen countrymen by taking active steps to apprehend the perpetrators of these crimes, if not prevent the crimes altogether. I have already made this appeal once before this august house, but the continued spate of killings reflects the need to reiterate that appeal.
I was reading the editorial in the Inquirer this morning, and it talked about Don Quixote. On the surface, one might call Don Quixote crazy indeed, in fact his name has been used as an adjective to mean lofty and impractical. To a nation inured to crime, the idea of putting a stop to it, might seem "Quixotic", but think, long hard, Mr. President, worthy colleagues, just how sane is it to simply resign ourselves to the idea that crime is inevitable? What kind of nation have we become that we already find the idea of protecting our people from criminals, "Quixotic"?
This is the Senate, my dear friends, the forum in which we create laws to establish order in our nation, to provide for the needs of our people; jobs, schools for our children, hospitals, to uphold their right to life, liberty and property. We argue about taxes, we rage against corruption, we debate passionately on the merits of the dates for elections. Let us not be silent about murder, because as we can see, silence can be deadly for our people.
We may be a poor country, but the worse kind of poverty is the poverty of the spirit, and the day that we lose the spirit to rage against those who would take the very lives of our people, is the day that we fail our people.
Thank you, Mr. President.
"What this country needs is not a change OF men but a change IN men."
Senator Richard Gordon