IN criminology, a “cold case” refers to a crime that has not been resolved and isn’t the subject of an ongoing investigation.
That description fits to a T the spate of street killings of suspeced hoodlums in Cebu City in 2005.
With almost weekly reports of the gangland-style death of a petty thief or newly released prisoner, Cebuanos were pretty much numbed to the reality of vigilantes back then.
Police never found the mastermind neither did they go out of their way to find one.
The unsolved killings became so frequent and followed a pattern such that every police report of a man with a tattoo or prison record who ended up shot dead by assailants on a motorbike (they often wore masks) would fall in the list of victims of a “vigilante” or “vigilante-style” killing.
Does this sound like history or does it remind you of ambushes today?
If not for his family’s wealth and legitimate enterprises, for example, Mandaue city businessman Antonio Ouano could fall in the “kill formula” of a vigilante hit — two men on a motorbike finishing off an easy target. Another unsolved case.
While the Cebu archbishop, lawyer groups and media condemned the violence of those years as lawless and inhuman, the “death squads” of unidentified, motorcycle-riding gunmen went their way, killing shady characters and police characters with impunity.
The legacy of Cebu City’s vigilante heydey is the way guns-for-hire are generally accepted today as easy to contract for as low as P2,000.
This was the real danger warned of by church leaders and critics of the wild-wild-west strategy of law enforcment in Cebu City – that the value of life would sink to a level where man’s inhumanity to man was a cheap activity.
We’ll never know whether the targets of the vigilantes were really guilty, despite their tattoos and records of deviant behavior. Their judge and jury were nameless hitmen.
While he denied orchestrating the violence, and denies it again today, Tomas Osmeña didn’t mind taking credit for looking tough as Cebu City mayor and warning crooks to stay out or end up dead. He bragged about his support for aggressive police action through a “Hunter Team” and announced cash rewards for policemen who would neutralize the “bad elements” out there.
Cebu City wasn’t quite Duterte country but Osmeña was an open admirer of Davao’s brash mayor and the effectivity of Duterte’s death squads in keeping the city crime-free.
The 1985 US Embassy cable posted by WikiLeaks quoting US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone Jr.’s brief of the vigilante trend in Cebu City s was a page of history. It really happened.
The blood on the streets of unmourned vigilante targets challenge us today to ask whether, in a vision of a prosperous Cebu City, we would, ever again wipe out human life like a scourge because the ends justify the means.