Cebu’s death streets | Inquirer News

Cebu’s death streets

/ 12:06 AM June 25, 2016

THIS photo, taken on March 4, 2005, shows the body of ex-convict Piolito Ancajas, believed to be a victim of vigilantes, lying on top of a garbage heap at the corner of Sanciangko and Junguera Streets in Cebu City. JUNJIE MENDOZA/CEBU DAILY NEWS

THIS photo, taken on March 4, 2005, shows the body of ex-convict Piolito Ancajas, believed to be a victim of vigilantes, lying on top of a garbage heap at the corner of Sanciangko and Junguera Streets in Cebu City. JUNJIE MENDOZA/CEBU DAILY NEWS

Sometime in 2006, Virginia was losing sleep over fears that her 29-year-old son, Michael, would be the next to fall in what appeared to be a spate of vigilante-style executions of petty criminals in Cebu City.

Then Mayor Tomas Osmeña had been offering a cash reward of P20,000 to policemen for every criminal they would “permanently disable and neutralize.” He also formed the Hunter Team, an elite police unit whose task was to go after crime suspects in response to the series of robbery-killings that swept the city at that time.


The day Virginia, a food vendor, dreaded came in May 2006.


Michael, then 29, had just taken lunch at a roadside eatery when he was shot and killed by one of two men on a motorcycle. He was to become one of over 100 victims of vigilante-style executions in the city in two years from 2004.

Virginia, now 60, still feels the pain of losing her son, and her family’s cry for justice has remained unanswered.

“What can we do?” said the widow, who declined to mention her family name out of fear for the family’s safety. “We are poor,” she said, tears falling on her cheeks.

Bigger cash reward

Last month, when Osmeña was again elected Cebu City mayor and announced a P50,000 reward for every crime suspect killed, Virginia felt a similar chill. She doesn’t want to lose another son, Jonathan, her youngest, who has dabbled in illegal drugs.

Asked if she suspected anyone behind Michael’s death, Virginia just cried. “I would not say anything, sir, because they might run after me,” she said.


She did not elaborate.

But six months before Michael’s death, someone showed her a list of targets by the motorcycle-riding killers, supposedly supplied by the police. “My son was No. 6,” she said.

The vigilante-style killings were reported almost daily in local and national papers. Newspaper reports counted 168 victims.

No suspect had been brought to court for lack of witnesses, according to Leo Villarino, who headed the Commission on Human Rights Central Visayas (CHR) investigation division.

Osmeña denied having a hand in the killings but admitted his strong stance against crime might have inspired the vigilantes, although they did not distinguish between hardened criminals and suspects who wanted to reform. As long as the suspects had criminal records, they were dead men walking.

Feeling of safety

Robert Go, president of the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry from 2004 to 2006, recalled that there was no strong opposition to the summary executions at that time. These made the residents feel safe, he said.

“People wanted immediate solutions,” said Go, adding that businesses were not affected by the news.

In July 2004, Roger Rojo, a robbery suspect from Ozamiz City, was arrested after taking hostage a woman as he was cornered at a police checkpoint in Cebu City’s Barangay Punta Princesa. A complaint was filed against him at the prosecutor’s office.

Policemen shot and killed Rojo inside a van while he was being brought out of jail to supposedly lead them to his companions. Rojo grabbed the gun of an officer and tried to escape, police said.

According to Villarino, the National Bureau of Investigation in Central Visayas cleared Paul Labra III, head of the city police Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Branch, and two policemen, saying no rules of engagement were violated.

The CHR regional office decided to investigate the case for possible violation of Republic Act No. 7483, or the Rights of Persons Arrested, Detained or under Custodial Investigation Act. It said the suspect should have been accompanied by a lawyer when he was brought out of detention.

Villarino said he submitted a report recommending charges against Labra and the other officers, but Rojo’s relatives refused to sign the complaint.

More killings were carried out mostly by men on motorcycles after Rojo’s death. Some died as they stepped out of jail; others pleaded to judges to keep them in jail.

In 2006, the executions suddenly stopped as Cebu prepared for the hosting of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit. Villarino could not explain why, but some officials said it was prompted by concerns of summit organizers about a dark image of the province.

Lingering anxiety

Virginia’s family lives in a village where crimes are rampant. Before her son Michael was killed, she had asked him to leave and go to relatives in neighboring Bohol province.

He would not listen. “I have changed, Ma,” Virginia recalled her son saying. “Look, I am driving a tricycle for a living.”

Besides, Michael did not want to abandon a live-in partner and a year-old son who inspired him to become a better man.

Six months later, he was dead.

When Virginia heard Osmeña announce yet another reward system for dead criminals, Virginia felt anxious about her youngest son, Jonathan, a father of five children and involved in illegal drugs. “Even if my son is wayward, I don’t want bad things to happen to him because I am his mother,” she said.

This time, suspected criminals were dying in supposed gunfights with lawmen. In a month, at least 10 were killed by Cebu-based policemen in separate operations in Cebu, Bohol and Las Piñas City in Metro Manila.

So far, at least P325,000  in cash had been handed out to police units for killing three drug suspects and wounding another and two alleged robbers.

Jaguar’s case

The latest fatality was Jeffrey Otom Diaz, alias Jaguar, who was tagged as the biggest drug lord in Central Visayas. He was slain in a clash with police in Las Piñas on June 17.

In his Facebook account, Osmeña urged Cebuanos to reveal the identities and whereabouts of drug suspects in their communities. “I will get rid of all of them,” he wrote.

Why kill drug lords when they can be arrested to squeal on their cohorts and protectors?

“Dead men tell no tales,” said lawyer Augusto Isidoro, former assistant director of the NBI in Central Visayas who is now head of the agency for Central Mindanao.

Isidoro cited the case of Diaz, who was killed a week af- ter he expressed a desire to sur- render. Like any drug lord, Di az would not engage the police in a gunfight because he could pay good lawyers to defend him in court and keep him out of jail.

“Drug lords in the Philippines know they can easily bribe policemen, and if the police do not accept their offer, they can bribe the prosecutors or the judges,” Isidoro said.

“In my personal opinion, without questioning the legitimacy of the police operation, Jaguar was killed maybe because he was about to divulge the identifies of his bosses and protectors,” he said.

Isidoro, who was assigned to Cebu from March 2015 to January 2016, said Diaz had several “protectors,” including police officers, politicians and other “big” personalities in the government.

CHR alarmed

“The people behind him feared so much that Jaguar might implicate them soon, so they summarily killed him,” Isidoro said.

While the CHR appreciated the renewed police campaign against crime, it is alarmed by the surge in violence. “Killing should be the last resort,” Villarino said.

Policemen, he said, should heed the rules of engagement to avoid suspicions of involvement in extrajudicial killings.

He cited a statement of concern by a pro-gun group about offering rewards to civilians as it would be prone to abuse and encourage vigilantism.

Gun holders, especially those untrained on the proper use of guns, could also endanger the lives of innocent people, Villarino said. “We have the right to make a citizens’ arrest, but again if your life is in danger, you go to the police,” he said.

Villarino said the reward system could only entice policemen to take shortcuts in their operation. It was not the answer to the low pay of policemen, he added.

“Our public officials should not be in the frontline of encouraging lawlessness,” the CHR official said. “Sometimes, the good intention could be tainted by how we respond to the situation.”

Judge and executioner

Gordon Alan Joseph, president of the Cebu Business Club, also expressed concern over the cash offer even if Osmeña insisted that the killing should be done legally.

Policemen could play judge, jury and executioner, Joseph said in an online interview.

“This kind of justice does not exist in any civilized country in the world,” he said. “We need to work on fixing our justice system.”

Potential investors were also worried, Joseph said. “Most have adopted a wait and see attitude and have postponed investment,” he said. “This is not a justice system that appeals to investors.”

He said the government approach in fighting crime should be to improve police capability and law enforce-ment. The government must also  make sure that economic development continued and more jobs were created, he said.

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“Reform is needed. Plus as we all know economic development, job creation and education mitigate crime,” Joseph said.

TAGS: Cebu City, death, Drugs, News, Regions, streets

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