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The killings continue

December 12, 2017 ·  By Philippine Daily Inquirer for opinion.inquirer.net

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In the short period that the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency took over the antidrug war, the high body count that had characterized the campaign appeared to significantly decrease.

According to the agency’s own tally, starting from Oct. 11 when President Duterte ordered all drug operations transferred from the Philippine National Police to the PDEA, the latter conducted 2,161 antidrug operations, recovered a total of P104.1 million worth of illegal drugs — and saw only one death resulting from its work, a far cry from the thousands of fatalities that attended the PNP’s version of the campaign.

But the apparent diminished violence on the part of law enforcement authorities does not mean the larger wave of killings engulfing the country has been contained as well. Vigilante killings continue unabated, and the latest victims this time are of a different profile: activist church workers.

Fr. Marcelito Paez, 72, was shot dead aboard his vehicle by motorcycle-riding gunmen last Monday in Jaen, Nueva Ecija. Paez served as parish priest of the Diocese of San Jose, Nueva Ecija, for 32 years, and was also an organizer of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon in the province and coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines for Central Luzon.

Before his assassination, he had reportedly facilitated the release of suspected communist rebel Rommel Tucay from the Cabanatuan City provincial jail.

For his work helping farmers and the poor organize and defend their rights, Paez was arrested by soldiers last March, according to the rights group Karapatan.

That earlier brush with the law for his activism appears to have put the priest in the cross hairs of powerful shadowy quarters, who saw in a retired but crusading septuagenarian cleric a threat to their interests so large that he had to be eliminated in the most heinous fashion.

A day before Paez’s killing, another churchman, Christian pastor Lovelito Quiñones, died from gunshot wounds in Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro.

Quiñones, 57, was riding his motorcycle when he was shot in the chest by members of the Police Regional Mobile Group, according to Karapatan, which also alleges that the military had earlier tagged the pastor as a member of the New People’s Army.

Other than the bloody campaign against drug pushers and users, has a separate crackdown been launched against activists and human rights workers, following Mr. Duterte’s formal scuttling of peace negotiations with communist rebels and his declaration of the NPA as a terrorist group? Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay thinks it has become obvious: “Priests, doctors, lawyers, students, human rights defenders, peasant and indigenous communities, and urban poor communities are open targets by the state’s security forces, emboldened and reassured by their commander in chief,” Palabay has said in a statement. Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate also cites information from the group that 104 extrajudicial killings occurred in October alone.

Malacañang has promised to look into the murders of Paez and Quiñones.

“Like all killings, they will be investigated by police authorities. And if there’s sufficient evidence to charge anyone, then authorities are duty-bound to file the necessary information,” said presidential spokesperson Harry Roque.

But that promise rings hollow against the backdrop of the thousands of similar killings that remain unresolved all over the country, a fact that has apparently served to embolden more criminal elements — not to mention the rogues in the police force who are said to have been killing suspects indiscriminately — to exploit the climate of impunity to the hilt.

At this point, Roque’s qualifier actually carries the opposite implication: “Like all killings,” the latest cases may end up no more than dead ends as well.

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