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Impunity

The barkers of Jed Patrick Mabilog boasted to the local media that Wilfredo Solomon, close-in bodyguard of the city mayor, has been pulled out of his duties as chief protector and reassigned as office clerk in his extravagantly furnished 7th floor office in the New Iloilo City Hall building.

These barkers made it sound as if Solomon, who shot and wounded an unarmed neighbor twice, was being exiled to Siberia. Solomon figured in another fracas last Sunday night when he pulled out his pistol in a drunken altercation but was overpowered by his own drinking buddies. He was beaten black and blue. it was an ugly episode for a city mayor who ignores criminality in Iloilo City as if it doesn’t exist.

Solomon has never been charged for his crimes. The police are reluctant to do so for obvious reasons. Mabilog said it’s up to the police. We don’t need to be geniuses to figure out that it’s a signal to them not to mess with his bodyguard. Now he is being given a comfortable job after being mauled by buddies who could have been shot themselves.

This soft reproach is symbolic of how Mabilog treats abuses in his administration. It is a perfect illustration of a culture of impunity where law breakers get the protection of persons in authority. Instead of turning Solomon in, Mabilog shielded him and ordered him to enjoy the airconditioned comfort of an overpriced A/C system in his office. Not even a reprimand.

Because of this, it is not surprising why criminality has surged in Iloilo City during the last 26 months. It’s either Mabilog is protecting criminals or is simply too callous to bother about protecting the safety of his constituents. Until now, we haven’t heard the city mayor acknowledge that we have a problem. His statements have always branded these reports as exaggerations, or figments of the imagination.

What makes us worry is that people are getting killed. Homes and businesses are being robbed, many in broad daylight. Laws are being violated, with no steps being taken to address them. In this city, impunity is the name of the game.

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Dead and cold

It’s been more than five months now since block-time broadcaster Neil “Lito” Jimena was shot in cold blood in the town of E. B. Magalona, Negros Occidental by apparent guns-for-hire “riding in tandem”. Two suspects have been charged before the Negros Occidental Provincial Prosecutor’s Office about a month later after eyewitnesses positively identified them as the culprits. Nothing has been heard about the case since then. If it were a radio set, only the hissing sound of static — empty radio signal — could be heard from it.

The silence is suspicious. The police had positive identification. There was even a CCTV video that showed the victim during his last few moments, with the alleged gunmen visible in the background. Right from the start, we received A-1 information from intelligence sources that the assailants were hired by a powerful figure in Iloilo City. The victim appears to have been lured to go home to E. B. Magalona that weekend. It was a set-up. There was a deluge of death threats in his cell phone. The victim had also revealed to friends and colleagues that his life was in danger.

First, why did the Philippine National Police (PNP) stop dead in its tracks? The investigation was not yet over. Only the alleged assailants were identified. Certainly, the investigation shouldn’t have ended there. We expected the PNP to send investigators to talk with Jimena’s colleagues in Iloilo City. These individuals could have provided clues on the mastermind behind the killing. I, for one, received text messages from Jimena that can shine a bright beam of light on the case.

And what about the CCTV footage? That was supposedly sent by the Task Force Jimena to Camp Crame for forensics examination and get the images enhanced. After five months, there should be helpful results by now. But we have not heard anything. It’s as if the case was just closed with hardly a whimper. The PNP no longer demonstrated interest in pursuing the case. In effect, even the alleged triggerman and his accomplice-driver would not have to face trial. Justice will never be done for Lito Jimena

This development is disturbing. It reinforces the perception that the culture of impunity in which media workers are murdered without their culprits being punished persists, and shows no sign of abating. An investigative report published by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) shows there have been 120 media murders since freedom of the press was restored in the country in 1986. That is a high price to pay for the right to report the truth freely.

Only about 8 percent of the cases have resulted in conviction. More than half never even reached the courts, according to PCIJ. Apparently, the forces of government are no match to the power of the individuals who ordered these killings. This is a weakness in our law enforcement system that leaves the media profession highly vulnerable. And it’s not farfetched to think that most young journalists would rather stay away from danger than pursue stories fearlessly. Indeed, with the pittance that most Filipino journalists get for their work, it’s hard to courageous in the journalism sense of the word.

How many more journalists will have to pay with their lives to earn the right to report the truth freely? The case of Dr. Gerry Ortega of Puerto Princesa is now gaining prominence once more as the media profession have closed ranks to protest the failure of law enforcers to pin down the culprits. Fear for one’s life is worse than libel in discouraging journalists from angering powerful public officials. The lack of interest on the part of the Aquino government to end this culture of impunity makes it part of the problem.

There are ugly rumors that a powerful politician has pressured the PNP to step on the brakes in pursuing the case. It’s not hard to believe these rumors, because there is no logical explanation for the sudden “cold and dead” status of the case. An investigation doesn’t just lose steam when it is hot on a lead. There has to be an external stimulus to make that happen. It would be unfortunate if this is true. The PNP ceases to be the protector of our freedoms. It is once again becoming a tool for dirty politicians

Crime busting

A spate of crimes that hit Iloilo City during the last few days has forced police authorities to review a novel concept of taking away patrol vehicles from the direct control of police stations and deploying them in designated pre-position locations supposedly to increase visibility. From the start, the idea received negative feedback from the local media because it tended to handicap a very important component of police work — mobility. It was a trial-and-error approach that apparently backfired, and now, City Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog is a very unhappy man. He can’t allow the city to build a name as “crime city”.

Perhaps this is the result of having a city police director who is not an Ilonggo. Effective police work is not just about a show of authority and presence. It delves into culture and knowledge of the community. When a police official is a stranger to a community, it’s hard for him to understand the dynamics of its people, and harder still to gain the trust and cooperation of the community. This is something that Mayor Mabilog should now try to understand if he wants the situation to shift from bad to good. The failure of the police will be his failure.

Like any other growing city, Iloilo has always had its share of crimes. But in the past, we saw our police directors stay a step ahead of crime, and murders and robberies were occasional incidents rather than a string of cases in a short period of time. In the late 80s, we had the late Col. Achilles Plagata (who became a city councilor) serve as Metrodiscom (forerunner of.  the ICPO) chief, and I think it was a model of how effective police leadership is carried out. In those days, police conducted nightly patrols in the city’s watering holes and checked for weapons. Checkpoints were conducted even when there is no gun ban. And I think it wasn’t a matter of style — the police commander knew his community and he wanted to keep it safe for its people.

Being police chief isn’t an 8 to 5 job. It is a full-time job, meaning 24/7. Even while a commander is home with his family, half of his mind is still occupied by what is happening around the community. It’s not uncommon for good police chiefs to stay up late with the men, especially when an enforcement operation is 0n-going. As former provincial administrator of Iloilo, I saw this trait in among a number of PNP provincial directors, notable among whom was P/SSUPT Ricardo de la Paz. The likes of Ric de la Paz made local officials comfortable that crime syndicates are kept on the run, rather than them dictating the tempo. The record of Iloilo province as one of the most peaceful in the country during the incumbency of Governor Niel Tupas Sr. is the envy of many LGUs.