[In the news] Unsolved ‘vigilante’ killings frustrated, burdened police | Sun.Star

Unsolved ‘vigilante’ killings frustrated, burdened police | Sun.Star.

CEBU CITY – Someone pushed Romeo Lico out of a multicab past midnight last March 30, 2006 in Barangay Lahug, Cebu City.

When he sensed he was near death, Lico ran. But that didn’t stop his unknown assailant from firing at him. Another gunman, who rode a motorcycle, pierced Lico’s head with more bullets.

Senior Insp. Mario Monilar, the former Cebu City Police Office (CCPO) Homicide Section chief, said Lico had 14 bullets in the head.

Lico was one of nearly 200 victims gunned down, vigilante-style, in Cebu City starting in 2004. He had been charged in connection with the killing of a woman in 2004 and with shooting a policeman who was responding to an alarm.

The onslaught of the vigilante-style killings started on Dec. 22, 2004, after then Cebu City mayor Tomas Osmeña expressed his concern on the increasing crime rate.

Looking back, Monilar, now the Guadalupe Police Station chief, said the series of killings burdened him.

“Wa ta malipay kay dugang sa trabaho, sige’g pangita sa suspek (We had to keep looking for suspects, and that was nothing to be happy about),” he said in a phone interview.

In those cases, the gunmen were usually masked, rode a motorcycle in tandem, and used a gun to kill their target persons. Most of their targets had criminal records.

Monilar said they solved some of the cases, but he admitted majority remained a mystery.

He said the police could never have been the vigilantes—one of the theories that surfaced when none of the cases were cracked.

“We are a government of laws, not of men,” he said. “Di ta ka husgar sa tawo (We cannot act like judges).”

Former CCPO director Melvin Gayotin said the crime rate during this period decreased.

His successor Senior Supt. Patrocinio Comendador, in a separate phone interview, said that some crime groups used hired guns and imitated the “vigilantes” in killing their erring members.

“Daghan nanakay nga grupo,” he said. “Out of revenge, some took the law into their own hands.”

Osmeña, now the congressional representative of Cebu City south district, had said: “I’m not exactly sad when a criminal gets shot.”

But during a mass for the feast of Señor Sto. Niño on Jan. 15, 2006, then Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal criticized the summary killings.

“It’s a big sin… pagpusil patay bisan kinsa pa ang nag-inspire, even if it’s meant for peace and order,” he said. Vidal is now the archbishop emeritus.

Osmeña, in an earlier report, admitted he may have “inspired” the attacks on the convicted or suspected criminals.

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP)-Cebu City chapter had criticized Osmeña for refusing to take a stand against the summary executions.

The right to life is one of the basic human rights guaranteed by the Constitution, they pointed out.

The killings started to wane in the middle of 2007, after the police identified and filed cases against some gunmen, said Comendador, who is now the officer-in-charge of the Cebu Provincial Police Office (CPPO).

He also said the killings corresponded with a drop in petty crimes like theft, but the homicide rate rose.

When Comendador assumed the CCPO’s top post, he wanted to stop the killings, saying they were unlawful.

“Everybody deserves justice,” Comendador said of the victims. But, he said, the “slow wheels of justice system” must be made to go faster.

“Bisag sa kapaspas sa pulis, unya madugay sa fiscal, mawa ra ang efforts sa pulis (No matter who swiftly the police force acts, if the case gets stuck at the fiscal’s level, our efforts will be proven futile),” he said.

For his part, Monilar said there is a dim chance for vigilantes’ victims to attain justice since most of their relatives accepted their fate.

“Nidawat sila kay kasagaran sa napatay problema sa komunidad (They have accepted the fact that most of those killed had caused the community some problems),” he said. KAL of Sun.Star Cebu)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on May 16, 2011.

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