ILOILO CITY?It seemed like any other school day. Fernando Baldomero was getting his motorcycle ready to bring his 12-year-old son to school just a kilometer away.
But it was a different Monday morning.
As the provincial coordinator of the party-list group Bayan Muna and his son were about to drive away, an unidentified man pointed a gun at Baldomero, who quickly covered his son and tried to parry the gun away.
The gunman was quicker. He repeatedly shot Baldomero in front of the boy, then fled on a motorcycle with no license plate and driven by another suspect.
The first killing of a political activist under the 5-day-old Aquino administration was grimly in the books.
Baldomero, 61, was pronounced dead on arrival at a hospital in Kalibo, Aklan, after sustaining two gunshot wounds in the head and neck, Chief Insp. Aden Lagradante, Kalibo police chief, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in a phone interview.
Baldomero was not just a local Bayan Muna leader. He was also a reelected councilor of Lezo town. Being the municipal coordinator of the Liberal Party, he ran under the LP banner in the recent elections and was, thus, also a party mate of President Benigno Aquino III.
He was also previously accused by the military and the police of links with the communist New People?s Army (NPA) rebels.
Baldomero was shot at around 6:30 a.m. outside his rented house in a residential compound at Barangay Estancia in Kalibo, capital town of Aklan province.
It was the second attack on him in a little over three months.
Times haven?t changed
Condemnation of the murder was swift and Malacañang promised to bring the killers to justice.
A human rights group said Mr. Aquino should be more concerned about extrajudicial killings than about ?wangwangs? (car sirens).
Baldomero was killed two days after an unidentified man armed with a shotgun killed former radio broadcaster Jose Daguio, 72, in his yard in Tabuk, Kalinga.
It?s as if times haven?t changed.
Even during the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, activists were virtual open targets for assassins. During Arroyo?s nine-year term, there were at least 1,190 extrajudicial killings, according to a report of the human rights group Karapatan, as of last April.
The killings were condemned in the United Nations, United States and Europe.
Lagradante said the assailants were apparently waiting for Baldomero to come out from the compound. Three empty shells believed to be from a .45 cal. pistol were recovered from the scene.
The police were still determining the identities of the assailants. Lagradante said the killing could be related to an earlier attack on Baldomero.
Unfazed by threats
On March 19, two motorcycle-riding men lobbed two grenades at Baldomero?s ancestral house in nearby Lezo town. No one was injured in the blasts and Baldomero was not in the house at the time.
Baldomero told the Inquirer after that attack that he believed it was part of continued assaults on activists and members of progressive party-list groups.
Baldomero?s elder son, Ernan, a freelance journalist in Aklan, said in a phone interview: ?We knew the risks involved in his work. We are still in shock, especially my brother, who saw our father murdered.?
He said his father had been continuously threatened for his involvement with activist groups.
?He kept his silence ... because he believed that what he was fighting for was right,? Ernan said.
Baldomero was detained for four months in 2005 after the police and military tagged him as a member of an NPA unit blamed for attacks on policemen and soldiers in Iloilo. The courts dismissed the cases against him for lack of evidence.
In 2007, the police also charged him, along with suspected NPA rebels, with the killing of an Iloilo farmer whom the rebels had accused of being an informer. Baldomero denied the accusation.
Baldomero served his first term as town councilor from 2007 to 2010. He won a second term in the May elections with the third highest number of votes.
Malacañang vowed swift justice for Baldomero and the slain ex-broadcaster.
Scrap ?Bantay Laya?
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said curbing extrajudicial killings was a top priority of Mr. Aquino. He said Justice Secretary Leila de Lima had been instructed to lead the investigation.
?We promise equal justice for all,? he said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño, whose family hails from Kalibo, said on hearing of Baldomero?s murder: ?We demand an immediate and thorough investigation, particularly the involvement of military and military-backed death squads.?
He challenged the Aquino administration to prove things have changed since the Arroyo presidency by giving justice to Baldomero and stopping extrajudicial killings.
Casiño also called on Mr. Aquino to suspend the government?s counterinsurgency program ?Oplan Bantay Laya III? and its policy of tagging leftist activists as ?enemies of the state.?
He said the policy had led to systematic extrajudicial killings and ?enforced disappearances? during Arroyo?s time.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said the group was looking into the possible military involvement in the murder of Baldomero.
Former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo said Mr. Aquino had the power to stop the attacks on activists.
?President Aquino should rein in the military and their death squads to put an end to the impunity that was nurtured by his despised predecessor,? Ocampo said.
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) urged Mr. Aquino ?to use the full force of the law to arrest the perpetrators.?
?Mr. Aquino must send a clear message to state security forces that these killings have to end and perpetrators will be prosecuted. Heads must roll in the (Armed Forces),? said Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr.
Karapatan chair Marie Hilao-Enriquez said that more than banning ?wangwangs,? Mr. Aquino should make a ?categorical order to put an end to the atrocities of Oplan Bantay Laya.?
Enriquez feared that the absence of a categorical statement from Mr. Aquino, as well as the declaration by new AFP Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Ricardo David of a three-year timetable to end insurgency, would mean continuation of Arroyo?s counterinsurgency campaign.
Reyes said Mr. Aquino should ?speak out now,? adding that he could order David to relieve commanders in areas where killings had occurred ?to serve as a lesson to future offenders.?
In a statement, Amnesty International said the Aquino administration should ?ensure that state security forces are not immune from investigation and prosecution for political killings and enforced disappearances.?
Amnesty International urged Secretary De Lima to end the culture of impunity among security forces and establish a working group to review all reported cases of extrajudicial killings and disappearances since 2000 to ensure prosecution of the perpetrators.
?In the Philippines, members of the military, police, state-supported militias and private armies, as well as insurgent groups, have literally been allowed to get away with murder,? said Sam Zarifi, Asia-Pacific director of the human rights watchdog. With reports from Christian V. Esguerra, Leila B. Salaverria, Nikko Dizon, Associated Press and Agence France-Presse