Alarming Pattern of Killings Continues in the Philippines

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Alarming Pattern of Killings Continues in the Philippines

This year has seen a series of armed ambushes of local government officials. Meanwhile, the “war on drugs” continues.

Alarming Pattern of Killings Continues in the Philippines
Credit: Depositphotos

Gun attacks over the past month have killed several local officials in various provinces of the Philippines.

From February 17 to 26, four ambushes were carried out by unidentified assailants in Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao del Sur in Mindanao; and in the municipality of Aparri and a barangay (village) in Batangas province in Luzon. In Lanao del Sur, the governor survived but four of his companions were killed. In Aparri, six were killed, including the town’s vice mayor.

The police described the killings as isolated incidents.

On March 3, the provincial governor of Negros Oriental was killed inside his family compound while distributing cash relief to constituents. Eight others were killed during the attack. The brazenness of the assault in Negros has alarmed authorities.

“It was shocking. I couldn’t believe that this still happened. This one is particularly terrifying. This does not belong in our society,” Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said during a media briefing. “My government will not rest until we have brought the perpetrators of this dastardly and heinous crime to justice,” he added in a statement released by his office.

Police tagged the governor’s political rival, who is a member of Congress, as a suspect who likely planned the attack. The police also arrested several former soldiers suspected of carrying out the ambush.

The Senate passed a resolution condemning the killings. An excerpt from the resolution states that “injustice and violence do not have a place in any civilized society, and no cause justifies brutalities against the lives of all persons.”

The Senate president urged the police to restore public confidence: “Every single incident like this ambush puts a dent on our people’s trust in the government. It is a failure of intelligence, a failure of police visibility, a failure of our peace and security efforts.”

Even Senator Bato Dela Rosa, the former police general who implemented the infamous “war on drugs” during the administration of former President Rodrigo Duterte, was horrified by the series of killings. “The impunity and brutality instilled horror, anxiety, and panic among our people. This poses an enormous challenge to our law enforcement authorities,” he said in a press release.

Senator Risa Hontiveros, a member of the minority, noted the “complicity and active involvement of men formerly in the uniformed service.” “The virus of impunity continues to proliferate, and our state forces are heavily infected. How can the public trust killers masquerading as law enforcement? Who is giving the marching orders?” she asked.

The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, which monitors and analyzes news reporting, pointed out that “wanton violence has long been endemic in the Philippines.” It explained how impunity has worsened over the past years. “Political warlords and drug lords keep private armies. Most masterminds get away with their crimes while only hired assassins or fall guys face jail time, reflecting how impunity reigns for those with the means,” it stated.

But aside from the recent attacks against local officials, unabated extrajudicial killings have also targeted activists under the Marcos government. The human rights group Karapatan recorded at least 17 killings linked to the government’s counterinsurgency program in the first five months of the Marcos administration. Meanwhile, a university research center has reported that drug-related killings have continued despite the government’s unveiling of a new program to eradicate the drug menace. Since January, it monitored an average of five drug-related killings per week.

These killings should be condemned as they reflect the disturbing culture of impunity in the Duterte and Marcos administrations. Legislators should broaden their probe by looking into all cases of extrajudicial killings, including those that involve state forces. The Marcos government will also undermine its own credibility if it continues to block the efforts of the International Criminal Court to investigate the accountability of Duterte and some of his subordinates for the brutal enforcement of the “war on drugs.”

Lastly, the quick action of the police in apprehending the suspects and building a case against the mastermind of the Negros Oriental killing showed that authorities can successfully coordinate to deliver justice for the victims and their families. The same political will should be applied as well to other cases, even if the victims do not belong to influential political parties.