640 murders, 177 homicides, and more cases unsolved !

Vice Mayor Alan Gel S. Cordova – Presiding officer-author – Propose Media Security Ordinance

The PNP records show that there were 640 murders and 177 homicides recorded between July 2016 to February 10, 2020 alone – a total of 817 killings. Since that time, to the best of my knowledge, there were seven more killed in the city, and two Dumagueteños killed somewhere within the province. UNSOLVED!

There is a war in the province far deadlier, in- terms of the number of people killed, than the COVID-19 pandemic and even the military’s anti- insurgency or anti-terrorism campaign. 

But with so many violent deaths, the conclusion is inevitable that there is a breakdown somewhere in our society that needs to be repaired, strengthened, enhanced.

We have grown used to government programs, especially those initiated nationally, grandly rolled out as a war against something: there are wars against poverty, ignorance, corruption, and, of course, the war against drugs.

But these number of deaths that I mention has to be casualties of some kind of war. Probably because they happen piece-meal, and all over any place of the province that we are somehow oblivious to this underreported tragedy. We do not have a name for it yet; I do not know of any government program specifically meant to fight this war.

Starting last year, I have talked to a few families of murder victims mainly coming from Dumaguete City and a few from the rest of the province. The victims come from all walks of life. The period when these murders happened vary and do not necessarily coincide with the time of the 817 murders earlier cited; in fact, the oldest was in the year 2007. My purpose is to collect information and to know, based on empirical data, how trustworthy is our criminal justice system. If not for COVID-19 (and a host of excuses), maybe I would already have learned more.

Listening to the stories of the victims’ families is saddening, to say the least. They give faces to mundane statistics and humanize the injustice of this war. Most were reluctant or fearful to see me, others suspicious. There are some who felt they have put the tragedy behind them and wanted to move on with their lives. Almost all have long ago up given up hope; you see, these 50 or so cases remain unsolved.

Only three were filed in Court and the rest were not even initiated at the prosecutor’s office. The reasons for such failure vary, but generally, the alleged lack of sufficient evidence prevented the filing of the proper complaint.

At this point, I am still collating data from our courts regarding the status of prosecution of the 817 murders, and other relevant information; this article is not a comprehensive presentation of such empirical data. In the meantime, I like to present my observations and other ideas I may have regarding our criminal justice system.

Burden on the PNP

I try to understand the system from the point of view of law enforcement, in relation to the ordinances and policies conceived by politicians intended to assist and complement law enforcement. The number of unsolved killings of prominent people in the city gave me a chance to observe and form my opinions.

Whenever a murder is committed, especially a sensational one, the public immediately expect at least two persons to explain and solve it as soon as possible: the Mayor, and the Chief of Police. Since the mayor is not trained as a policeman, and obviously has a different public mandate, the burden of explaining the results of the investigative process is ultimately passed on to the investigators themselves, the local PNP. In short, the final professional burden rests upon the local PNP, and such burden is expressed in various forms like public anger, fear, frustration, disappointment and demands for answers from politicians, the victims, the media, the community, and even from the PNP organization itself, as embodied by their provincial and regional PNP superiors. It must be noted, however, that NAPOLCOM Memorandum Circular 94-017 directs that for crime-reporting purposes, the case is solved if, among others, a suspect has been arrested and charged before the prosecutor’s office.  To us lay persons, we consider a murder solved after the final court order of conviction of the accused.

Media, political and public response

If the murder victim is well-known, there is extensive public discussion for a few days. Perhaps, meetings and special sessions of sanggunians or peace and order councils are promptly called, task forces created, and money allocated for the purchase of information, hand-held radios, and other mobilization expenses.

Media turn to politicians for interviews and the latter issue varying statements of condemnation of still unknown killers, of condolence to the victims, and other statements expressing shock, indignation and outrage that the so-called way of life before is not the way of life of today. Religious leaders offer redemption to the faceless and nameless sinners, and prayers of strength and guidance for local leaders to solve the case.

If the victim is not prominent – a “nobody”, no such statements are forthcoming. If the murder is allegedly drug-related, there are even un-Christian-like statements that the victim had it coming and deserved to be killed; if politically related, then some, if not most, people do what some, if not most, people do best – avoid controversy and play it safe.

In the aftermath of the murder, after the community in general has blown off steam and the PNP and politicians survive the scrutiny, community life moves on and returns to its guiltless routine, while the victim’s families, after briefly condoled with flowers, free coffee or rides to the cemetery, are left alone in the privacy of their homes to deal with their sorrow and their life-long pain, surrendering to the inevitability that their father, mother, son or  daughter, husband or wife, will just be another statistic in the long line of unsolved killings; a mere footnote in the bloody page of murders. (Cuncluded next issue)