Guns, Goons and Gold

Guns, Goons and Gold

It’s not the voting that’s democracy; it’s the counting.

— Czech-born British playwright Sir Tom Stoppard

I AM a victim of assassination every day — that is, character assassination.

But I’m used to it because many people whom we meet are not always a friend but are people who are either jealous of what you possess or have accomplished or else are simply antagonized and critical of your mere presence.

Being so, we can consider it as a journey through a wilderness of different personalities who could spell danger to us through the things that they do and say.

Still, life is not a garden of roses because every step we take could mean our downfall and sometimes even death. And this all depends on our deeds and advocacies.

Take the case of recent events wherein a journalist, a barangay chairman, and a mayor and his escort were killed in separate incidents and on another occasion, a member of the Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine National Police (PNP) was also slain by a fugitive the police operative’s team was about to arrest.

Last week, December 8, journalist Jesus ‘Jess’ Malabanan was shot by two assailants while he was watching television inside his family’s store in Calbayog, Western Samar. At almost the same time, Emiliano Muncal, village chief of Barangay Inspector in Santa Rosa, Nueva Ecija, was shot dead in front of his house by riding-in-tandem gunmen.

The day before, Mayor Darussalam Saguindilan Lajid of Al Barka town in Basilan and his security aide Barad Nuruddin was killed when four assassins on motorcycles ambushed them as they were on their way to a seaside mosque. Mayor Alih Awal Sali of Akbar town in the same province was with Lajid during the ambush; he survived but is still in critical condition.

In another incident also in Basilan, Corporal Nizam Alijam was slain in a shootout between the SAF team led by Major Samuel Mangetag Jr. and murder suspect Jerry Omar Harayin, who was issued an arrest warrant by Isabela City Regional Trial Court Branch 2 acting presiding judge Grace Tillah.

In the first three incidents, the perpetrators carried out the murders with the same impunity that has characterized the vigilante killings occurring with horrific regularity under the Duterte administration. And like most of those assassinations, the latest killings are likely to remain unresolved for years—additional entries in the police files marked “deaths under investigation.”

Malabanan, a former defense reporter who relocated to Pampanga as a correspondent for various media outfits, was hit by gunshots fired at close range. Retired Reuters correspondent Manny Mogato, who was part of the Reuters team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for its coverage of the administration’s “war against drugs,” said Malabanan, its longtime stringer, had contributed a lot to the reports. He further revealed that Reuters had helped relocate Malabanan back to Samar after the reporter had gotten threats to his life in San Fernando, Pampanga.

But Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFMS) executive director Undersecretary Joel Sy Egco believes that Malabanan’s killing had nothing to do with his stories on the drug war “because it is remotely possible that an enemy in Pampanga would send an assassin” to Calbayog.

However, Egco also disclosed that Malabanan had sought protection in 2017 because he felt he was under surveillance for helping with the Reuters report.

Despite this view, though, it appears that violence and impunity as well as the culture of ‘vigilantism’ is once again seeping into our society, and with the national and local elections just months away in May next year, we fear that ‘guns, goons and gold’ would raise its ugly head to influence our electorate when they exercise their right to suffrage.

After the death of my grandfather, Pasay City mayor Pablo Pablo Cuneta in 2000, Lolo Ambo’s former chief of security Captain Leonardo ‘Ding’ Santos ran for the city’s top post but unfortunately, I did not support his candidacy so it led to myself being at loggerheads with Santos’s goons. This did not scare me off but supporters of the retired captain harassed me — a fact that former Pasay City Police chief Arthur Cacdac and local election officer Annie Laceda could vouch to have actually happened.

So looking at the forthcoming polls and the campaign period prior to election day on May 9, we feel apprehensive of what would actually happen when things heat up towards the final day when the electorate chooses who will be our country’s leaders.

We hope it would be peaceful and orderly but we hope even more than those who will be elected are those candidates who truly want the Philippines to be great again—and not the Sick Man of Asia. (ai/mtvn)

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