PERSONAL ESSAY: New Year’s Reflection: My Farewell amid Stalking Dangers in Year 2018

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My use of possessive pronoun   

Since this work contains my purely personal reflections, there are times that I will be using the pronoun “I” or “me”, etc. and not “we” or “us”, etc. in some parts of this article. For this, I sincerely apologize.

At this juncture, however, I wish to clarify that my constant usage of possessive pronouns is not intended for the extravagant display of my self-conceit and vanity, and a misappropriation of a deed that is not entirely mine.

Although, it is given that I am now among the very few here in General Santos City who is openly critical against the bloodletting in the streets in the pursuit of the Duterte Regime’s state projects: the Oplan Double Barrel and Operation Tokhang.

Outsmarting my Would-be Attackers

Generically, extra-judicial killing (EJK) means killing a person without legal authority and without giving him or her, the chance to tell a story. A rabid legalese calls this type of killing as extra-legal killing, arguing that, since the country does not impose death as a penalty as a punishment for any crime, there could never be extra-judicial killing in the Philippines, only extra-legal killing.

Nevertheless, this piece merely intends to outsmart those who may want to do me harm by telling my story ahead of time or before they can even think of their dubious scheme against me.

For some sycophants, this paper may be regarded as one that exudes certain elements of braggadocio on my part, now that acts of violence are yet to be inflicted on my person.

But, I am almost certain that, when such violence strikes, this paper will be given semblance of prophetic and inspirational significance.

Identifying Possible Sources of Violence

My gut-feel points to the dangers stalking me for the year 2018. Under Duterte’s deadly regime, all the dangers that a human mind can perceive are not situated just within the domain of fiction stories or mere product of fearful tantrums.

For me, these dangers are actual and real, and not merely imaginary. And there are reasons for this.

I am now in the forefront of three eventful campaigns here in General Santos City: First, against the oppressive and alienating sacada system in the fishing industry https://www.facebook.com/benjamin.sumogoy/posts/1574539502634659; https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1524608090961134&set=a.417190181702936.103882.100002358739269&type=3&theater; Second, against the proliferation of online gambling and small town lottery (STL) outlets in General Santos City https://www.facebook.com/benjamin.sumogoy/posts/1502384143183529; and Third, against extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances, which are continually taking place in General Santos City https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1557950740960202&set=a.253671754721447.67316.100002358739269&type=3&theater.

The clandestine forces benefiting from these three leading societal anomalies consider the status quo, or now the status quo I have disturbed, as something that must be preserved by all means, and, unfortunately for me, all these clandestine forces have all the capacities, as well as the propensities, to kill.

If I were to rank these clandestine forces according to possibilities of them actually committing acts of violence against me, I rank the forces behind EJKs and enforced disappearances to be the FIRST; behind the sacada system, SECOND; and behind online gambling and STL, THIRD.

I have already written so many pieces on the oppressive sacada system in the fishing industry and on various illegal gambling games here in General Santos City https://www.facebook.com/benjamin.sumogoy/posts/1502384143183529. Thus, this work will focus more on my struggle against extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances also in General Santos City.

But, there is a need to mention here that my dramatic act of quelling the final attempt https://www.facebook.com/RondaBrigada/videos/1847863185543294/) of the politically powerful wielders of economic power lurking within the fishing industry in the whole country to force and/or influence the Department of Labor and Management (DOLE) to repeal Department Order 156-16,Series of 2016, before it is actually given life or enforced https://www.facebook.com/benjamin.sumogoy/posts/1574547559300520 had, somehow, made me a logical target of assassination.

In General Santos City, the economic powers controlling the fishing industry are exactly the same people that control the local political power.

I Am Vulnerable, a Sitting Duck

Here, in General Santos City, I am very vulnerable. I am literally a sitting duck. I am going around General Santos City just in my lonesome, and merely availing of public transport facilities to move me from one place to another. Thus, anybody can just strike at me anytime, without any iota of difficulty.

Furthermore, I am not a person of high social stature, and, therefore, I cannot generate any post-life sympathies from the people. The moment I am done, then, that is it.

My lowly social status adds to my vulnerability. Those who eye me for a kill may actually do it, without fearing any backlash. Therefore, there is simply nothing that could deter them.

Aware of these stalking dangers, I find it necessary and timely to perpetuate what I have done in General Santos City. I concede that the moment death strikes, a person, of my stature, is easily forgotten.

I am used to this kind of life https://benjaminsumogoy.com/.  So, I cannot also be deterred from continuing with my battle for human rights in this part of the country.

The Need to Immortalize the Spirit of the Struggle

But, it is my fervent hope that, even if I am eventually removed from the earth’s surface, what I have done here in General Santos City, together with the few brave souls who are fighting with me, will not be forgotten, and will be replicated in other parts of the country, taking into account some lessons that may be culled out from our struggle in defense of human rights.

I am quite certain that our struggle here in General Santos City would bring to the fore some valuable lessons and insights that may serve as guides for other gallant souls who may wage their own respective battles for human rights and other civil and political rights of an individual.

It is also my fervent hope that, through this work, the spirit of the battle I am now waging will live on, even after I am plunged into oblivion.

Lastly, it is my humble wish that, by fighting the enemies during their strongest and deadliest moments and during the time when only a few dare to fight in the most dangerous arena of combat, I can also become larger in death than in life.

I WAS MADE TO LIVE TO PROVIDE VOICES FOR THE DEAD

The moment I thought I was already about to die

For me, year 2017 started in a gloom. I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and my doctor did not discount the possibility that my cancer cells have already invaded the other parts of my body.

Haunted by life’s uncertainties, my past experiences were replayed in my dreams, and recurred in my memory, especially, during my moments of loneliness. I considered all these as tell-tale signs that my earthly journey was already about to end.

Few months before my mother died, she was fond of mentioning about her past works and the places that she had lived on, including the names of her acquaintances that were all dead. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1944328825623&set=t.100002358739269&type=3&theater

All these that had happened to my mother also happened to me months before I was subjected to a complicated surgical procedure. This bolters my belief, then, that, indeed, I was already about to die.

Immortalization of my Life’s Story

I do not have any material wealth to leave to my three children, two of them, although already of age, are yet to become independent. So, several months before I underwent the prostate cancer surgery, I began to write the story of my life and eventually finished it.

I was convinced, then, that I can only join my Creator in peace, if I would be able to bequeath my life story to my children, as the only wealth I can leave them, although I was not sure, then, if, at their age, it can still have a positive impact on their “struggle” to find their place under the sun.

Still in raw, I am presently serializing my life’s story in my blog site https://benjaminsumogoy.com/ for the purpose of immortalizing it. Its publication in my blog site is now almost complete.

I leave it to my daughter, Christine, the task of improving and polishing it for publication, in hard form, in the future, if there should be any need for it. https://wordpress.com/stats/day/mutyakabaleleng.wordpress.com

In this story I wrote, I highlighted the iconic struggle I waged as a public sector union leader, a struggle which remains unparalleled in the long saga of public sector union struggle in the whole country, until today https://benjaminsumogoy.com/.

My current struggle in defense of human rights and for the justice of the victims of EJKs and enforced disappearances is another trailblazer in the whole country. I invented another creative approach in the fight against EJKs. It is a trailblazer because what we are doing here in General Santos is not being done in other localities within the country. https://www.facebook.com/benjamin.sumogoy/posts/1567514786670464?pnref=story.

I was made to live so the dead would have a voice

Divine Providence gave me another lease of life. Through the help of former comrades and allies in the progressive movements, and some dear friends and classmates, my prostate surgery turned out to be very successful. I was declared free of cancer. My succeeding laboratory examinations consistently yielded the same results.

But, I did not expect, then, that, few months after I underwent that complicated surgical procedure, I would be embroiled in the dangerous mission to provide voices for the sixty six victims of EJKs in General Santos City.

To be candid, I did not intend to assume this dangerous role. It just came to me as a matter of course.

I merely answered a call, from deep within me, to speak for those who were haplessly shot dead by men riding-in-tandem during the time when all else are afraid to do the same.

Now, I fully know that Divine Providence had anointed me to pursue this mission until the killings are totally stopped, or until I become the victim myself.

GIVING VOICES TO 66 PERSONS KILLED BY MEN RIDING-IN-TANDEM

The escalation of the killings

Since January, this year, sixty six persons, all ordinary and struggling folks, were cut down by their assassins’ bullets.

After P/Supt. Marvin Marcos was assigned as the chief of the Central Intelligence and Detection Group (CIDG) in Region 12 http://www.manilatimes.net/marcos-assignment-region-12-stirs-opposition/339092/, the killings done by men riding-in-tandem in General Santos City had even escalated by folds.

Of the sixty six ordinary persons killed for the year 2017, four were killed in the month of August; twelve in the month of September; and ten in the month of October.

The killings were all done with impunity. In fact, one of these killings was done just few meters away from the central police station, which is located just beside the city hall https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=Bloody%20August%20in%20GenSan.

My Cowardly Advice

Amid all these atrocities, I posted on my Facebook account a rather cowardly advise to the families of the victims, to merely make legal documentations on the killings; to keep all those evidences duly gathered; and to file cases against the perpetrators of these same killings after President Duterte is already out of power either by resignation, impeachment, or ouster or by virtue of the expiration of his presidential term.

I was forced to give this kind of advice considering that, at that time, and even until now a crippling fear was/is gripping the people. Though cowardly, my advice was well received by many of our friends and allies. At that time, too, it was the most practical thing that the hapless families of the victims could do, under the prevailing climate of fear.

The Climate of Fear Worsened by the People’s Support for the Killings

I posted on my public Facebook account all these killings, even including the picture of the person bathed in his crimson blood, with his children profusely crying for the fate that befell their father. To my surprise and consternation, what I merited was depleted sympathy or unsympathetic silence. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1430502023705075&set=pb.100002358739269.-2207520000.1515557292.&type=3&theater ; https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1430503443704933&set=pb.100002358739269.-2207520000.1515557292.&type=3&theater; https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1430503443704933&set=pb.100002358739269.-2207520000.1515557292.&type=3&theater

I was even told by my ex-seminarian friend that he supports the killings and that those killed were actually deserving of their fate. Another friend of mine who is now holding high position in the banking industry has expressed to me his willingness to surrender all his civil and political rights to President Duterte, if only to ensure that he succeeds in his social cleansing project.

The picture of the lifeless body of the victim of EJK, soaked in blood, with his children in tears, which I posted in my FB account has garnered only nine “likes”, with no one giving any comment.

However, the post of my lawyer-friend of the picture of her dog, which died of natural ailment, in her FB account has garnered one hundred eighty “likes”, with her fifty seven FB friends expressing their words of sympathy to her for the death of her favorite pet.

It’s Time to Shatter the Emerging New Normal

It was, then, that I concluded that a New Normal was emerging in General Santos City. It is not only that the people are afraid to talk against the killings, but they actually seem to support these killings.

Thus, I decided to speak up against the blood-letting in the streets of General Santos City, no matter how dangerous. I called and participated in press conferences https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1416597078428903&set=t.100002358739269&type=3&theater where I subjected the massive killings happening in General Santos City and the whole county to harsh commentaries, and make law enforcement agencies and local officials accountable for these undeterred killings and other labor rights issues https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1472789996142944&set=pb.100002358739269.-2207520000.1515417570.

I also lambasted the Duterte Regime for giving imprimatur to these killings whenever I am interviewed by the media. I further posed a critique against Oplan Double Barrel and Operation Tokhang as embodiments of the official killing policies of the present dispensation.

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1544930282262248&set=pb.100002358739269.-2207520000.1515417558.&type=3&theater; https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1544168869005056&set=pb.100002358739269.-2207520000.1515417558.&type=3&theater; https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1529243327164277&set=pb.100002358739269.-2207520000.1515417564.&type=3&theater; https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1508004005954876&set=a.417190181702936.103882.100002358739269&type=3&theater; https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1480042458751031&set=pb.100002358739269.-2207520000.1515418206.&type=3&theater; https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1544168405671769&set=pcb.1544170175671592&type=3&theater; https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1544930085595601&set=pcb.1544930402262236&type=3&theater; https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1545061872249089&set=a.417190181702936.103882.100002358739269&type=3&theater; https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1508004102621533&set=pcb.1508005349288075&type=3&theater.

Oplan Double Barrel and Oplan Tokhang call upon the police to “neutralize” criminal offenders https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qp97pC9FFmM. Jose Manuel Diokno, head of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), considers “neutralization” as one that involves, among others, the killing of criminal offenders.

Jose Manuel Diokno, who also serves as the Dean of the De La Salle University College of Law, is the scion of the country’s human rights’ Icon, Former Senator Jose Wright Diokno.

I also appeared in various TV programs, like the Magandang Umaga Sosksargen, a regular morning program of ABS CBN local station and in Insight, a weekly interview program of Brigada TV. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1428220330599911&set=pb.100002358739269.-2207520000.1515419138.&type=3&theater; https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1455245664564044&set=pb.100002358739269.-2207520000.1515419133.&type=3&theater

Radio Stations’ hosts and reporters are calling me almost daily for an interview. I became a daily menu in the media. The police was bombarded by daily criticism in the tri-media. Local government officials were also made to account for their silence.

At this point, the objective conditions for the struggle against EJKs were established, with local officials forced to issue pronouncements against the prevalence of EJKs in the General Santos City.

The dead spoke from the grave

In year 2017, I fought EJKs by availing of various platforms, the social media, the local newspapers, TV and radio.

I even preached the importance of respect for human rights before the assembly of police officers in the regional headquarters of the Philippine National Police https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1357280001027278&set=pb.100002358739269.-2207520000.1515419808 in Region 12.

I also participated in various social mobilization activities  .where I made police agencies accountable for the killings  I also addressed the Sangguniang Panlungsod (SP) during it special session, where I called for the conduct of a local legislative inquiry on the killings in General Santos City. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1482550525166891&set=pb.100002358739269.-2207520000.1515557287.&type=3&theater; https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1464928580262419&set=pb.100002358739269.-2207520000.1515419133.&type=3&theater; https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1464927030262574&set=pb.100002358739269.-2207520000.1515419133.&type=3&theater; https://www.facebook.com/benjamin.sumogoy/media_set?set=a.417190181702936.103882.100002358739269&type=3; https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1390626894359255&set=pb.100002358739269.-2207520000.1515419706.&type=3&theater; https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1380789785342966&set=pb.100002358739269.-2207520000.1515419808.&type=3&theater; My speech in the SP where I accused the police to be behind the killings and advocated for psychological and economic interventions for the families who were killed by men riding-in-tandem, was carried by all media outlets in General Santos City https://www.facebook.com/benjamin.sumogoy/posts/1528213800600563; https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1403088773113067&set=pb.100002358739269.-2207520000.1515558183.&type=3&theater;

The noise created by my anti-EJK campaign in General Santos City had caused a stir beneath the comfortable silence of law enforcement agencies and the local government.

Those who were killed by men riding-in-tandem had finally found their voice. They spoke from their graves.

“DEAD MEN’S” TALE IN THE SP

SP’s Cognizance a Confluence of Events 

The eventual decision of the Sangguniang Panlungsod (SP) in General Santos City to officially conduct a local legislative inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the rampant killings that are happening in General Santos City is actually resulting from a confluence of various events and circumstances.

The Anti-EJK Noises

The rare opportunity for me to articulate the just causes of the families of the sixty six victims of EJK during the regular session of the SP was made possible by the political noises that have been stirred by our anti-EJK campaigns, owing to the all-out support given by the media.

There is no doubt, therefore, that these political noises had created a favorable political climate that led me to the halls of the local legislature. My appearance in the SP during its regular session has propelled to skyrocketing high the momentum of our anti-EJK campaign in General Santos City.

My Sheer Luck and the Gacal Factor

One of the lucky situations that made possible my appearance in the SP, during its regular session, was that, when City Councilor Jeng Gacal moved for the suspension of the house rules, it was City Councilor Beth Bairoy Bagonoc who was presiding the session, considering that Vice Mayor Shirlyn Banas-Nograles was absent during that time.

I am not so sure about this, but things could have been different if it was Vice Mayor Shirlyn Banas-Nograles who presided that session.

Media Criticisms Barred SP Members from Objecting to my Appearance

Also, my view is that the harsh criticisms hurled against city officials for their silence in the midst of the flow of blood in the city streets was the reason why no city councilor objected to my appearance during the  regular session of the SP.

But, while they did not object to my appearance during that session, all the members of the SP remained silent on the many issues I raised, and did not react or comment on my demands for the SP to, among others, undertake various economic and psychological interventions for the respective families of the victims of EJK, and to determine whether the killing rhetoric of President Duterte is actually creating a culture of death among the people, especially among the children.

City Councilor Lita Nunez, the remnant of PDP Laban ideological team in General Santos City, stood up after my speech, but not to indorse my demands, but to defend the police and President Duterte.

The Conflict between Jeng Gacal and City Police Director Berango

The conflict between City Councilor Jeng Gacal and City Police Director, PSI Ruel Berango has helped a lot in paving the way for me to discuss the multi-faceted issues surrounding the rampant incidents of EJKs during the regular session of the SP.

The conflict between the two government officials actually arose from the operations of the Small-Time Lottery (STL) outlets in the city, even without the imprimatur of the SP, wherein Jeng Gacal is the chair of the Committee on Games and Amusement.

Jeng Gacal accused Ruel Berango of having financial interests on the operations of STL outlets in General Santos City because he did not do anything to padlock these STL outlets, which the latter vehemently denied.

On the other hand, Jeng Gacal was also criticized for just wanting to have a share of the pie for his strong advocacy against the STL, considering that all his life, as a gambler himself, he is always in favor of gambling.

But, Jeng Gacal argued that, while he is in favor of gambling, the STL cannot be allowed, without the imprimatur of the SP, as embodied in the General Santos City Charter, which serves as an exception to the law creating the Philippine Charity Sweeps (PCSO) and to its self-regulating nature.

There were doubts as to the propriety of leaving the police the task of interpreting the complicated provisions of conflicting laws, and of acting according to its interpretation.

As far as I am concerned, the proper way of stopping STL operations in the city is for City Mayor Ronnel Rivera to order the City License Division to padlock these STL outlets, and, at the same time, to also order the police to assist the License Division in the padlocking of these STL outlets.

Be it as it may, the positive thing that had resulted from the imbroglio involving these two public officials resulted to the decision of City Councilor Jeng Gacal to deliver a privilege speech condemning the killings by men riding-in-tandem that are continually taking place in General Santos City https://rmn.ph/update-now-councilor-gacal-to-pnp-gensan-are-you-still-capable-of-solving-killings-in-the-city/.

He actually did. After his speech, Jeng Gacal moved for the suspension of the House Rules to pave the way for my own speech.

Jeng Gacal believed, then, that by doing this, he would have additional goods against City Police Director Ruel Berango.

I, even, agreed to write his privilege speech condemning the killings as a concession for my being allowed to address the SP on the same subject matter during its regular session.

Later on, the SP, acting as a collegial body, declared City Police Director Ruel Berango persona non-grata, primarily for his inaction on the request of Jeng Gacal to padlock the STL outlets, with the killings as merely side issues.

Divine Providence Works in His Mysterious Ways

As I always say, Divine Providence creates certain circumstances in order to correct what is wrong in society.

The conflict between Jeng Gacal and Ruel Berango is that circumstance that God has created to awaken the people from their slumber in the midst of full-scale bloodlettings. Divine Providence created a situation for the people to speak up in protest.

One week after I delivered my speech in the SP, Barangay Captain Alvin Veneracion, of Barangay Dadiangas East, also delivered a speech in the halls of the SP, also calling for the investigation of the death of Jan Raphael Eco, who was shot dead by police operatives while driving his service vehicle somewhere in Barangay Lagao, General Santos City.

Finally, the SP passed a resolution authorizing  concerned committees, the Blue Ribbon Committee, the Committee on Laws and the Committee on Peace and Order, to investigate the killing of Jan Raphael Eco http://tempo.com.ph/2017/10/06/probe-of-barangay-officials-son-sought/ and other related killings, which means the killing of sixty six other persons by men riding-in-tandem.

A Respite from the killings

Strangely enough, the passage of the SP resolution for the conduct of a legislative inquiry, in aid of legislation, coupled with another resolution declaring City Police Director Ruel Berango persona non-grata had the effect of stopping the killings in General Santos City, momentarily. http://www.spgensantos.ph/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/59RS_MIN.pdf

While this is strange, I happily welcomed it. But, when the killings suddenly stopped after the position of City Police Director Ruel Berango as City Police director was put in jeopardy, I cannot help but suspect that, indeed, the police has a hand on the spate of killings by men riding-in-tandem in General Santos City.

But, I do not pursue this theory consistently because of fear that the killings may be resumed by those responsible for such killings just to prove that I am wrong.

The confluence of events in General Santos City is seemed to be the product of Divine Hands in order for the city to take respite from the killings.

I feel that Divine Providence have made me an instrument, along with all others, so that those who were mercilessly killed can speak from their graves.

THE ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCE OF PHILLIP BACUDO, 19

A Sacrifice in the Processes of Society’s Self-Correction

I consider the enforced disappearance of Phillip Bacudo, a 19 years old resident of Greenville Village, Barangay Calumpang, General Santos City, as the society’s natural way of correcting itself, and that Phillip Bacudo was meant to be an unwilling sacrifice in the processes of its self-correction.

Phillip Bacudo has gone missing immediately after he was arrested by the police at Velox Energy Gasoline Station, along Mabuhay Road in Barangay City Heights, General Santos City. I do not have any iota of doubt that the police was involved in his enforced disappearance. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1549495435139066&set=a.417190181702936.103882.100002358739269&type=3&theater

There are already solid evidences on the complicities of the police in the enforced disappearance of Phillip Bacudo, but the legal processes is so slow in identifying the individual culprits  responsible for this dastardly act. http://www.mindanews.com/mindaviews/2017/11/commentary-phillip-bacudo-19-missing-a-sacrifice-in-the-process-of-societys-self-correction1/

Seizure of the opportunity to prove the complicity of the police in the killings

In the various articles I recently wrote, I always emphasize that the circumstances surrounding the enforced disappearance of Phillip Bacudo offers the people, human rights’ advocates especially, the rare opportunity to prove, in its concrete terms, that EJKs really do really exist and are for real, and that this type of killing is actually the handiwork of the police and its agents.

I also stressed in those articles I wrote that the opportunity being offered by the Bacudo enforced disappearance case should be seized and should not be allowed to let loose, if we are to really prove that the spate of killings that are being done by men riding-in-tandem in General Santos City, as well as, the whole country are actually handiworks of state agents.

The Bacudo enforced disappearance case also strengthened the public suspicion that, indeed, police officers and their agents are the ones primarily responsible for all these killings in General Santos City, as well as, the whole country. It serves as a catalyst and a propelling force in the discussion of human rights issues in this Southern-most tip of the country.

The Bacudo Case Brings to the Fore the Weaknesses of Human Rights Groups

The Bacudo enforced disappearance case also brought to the fore the weaknesses of human rights groups and the so-called progressive parties, which hide their cowardice behind a draconian jargon they termed as “calibration”.

The Phillip Bacudo incident had somewhat managed to let out the truth that, indeed, many of these human rights groups and political parties, if not all,  are fighting for human rights merely within the comfort of conference halls where beautiful slogans are invented and displayed for public view.

Finally, if I have to derive some valuable lessons from my experiences in fighting against human rights violations here in General Santos City is that, if I must fight, I must rely only on me sheer power and the power of my compatriots in the locality.

It is simply useless to expect anything from our national allies and networks, especially during moments of our urgent needs.

THE WASTED MOMENTUM IN OUR FIGHT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

The reason why we need support of our national networks

My main purpose of requesting for the immediate support of our organization’s mother network, the iDEFEND-National and allied national networks and political parties and movements in relation to the enforced disappearance of Phillip Bacudo was for them to help us in mobilizing national government agencies and civil society organizations to undertake concerted actions in search for the missing teen, while the issue here is still fresh and the possibility he may still be found alive is great.

The reason for this is easy to decipher. The local police force here in General Santos City is involved in the enforced disappearance of Phillip Bacudo and, therefore, it cannot be wholly simply relied upon in the pursuit of such task.

I was proven correct in this. The Special Investigation Task Force Bacudo, which was created through the orders of the court with the principal purpose of producing the body of Phillip Bacudo alive, is proven to be inutile in the pursuit of this task. It did not produce the living body of Phillip Bacudo after two months of “search,” not even the dead body of the missing teen.

Protection of Human Rights Defenders

The other purpose, as I painstakingly discussed in all my communication to all my organization’s national allies and networks, was that their cognizance of the case of the enforced disappearance of Phillip Bacudo could also help ensure the security and safety of one or two human rights defender/s in this part of the country.

My Dealings with FAHRA AND iDEFEND-National

When the Phillip Bacudo enforced disappearance took place, I immediately communicated, foremost, to our mother organization, the national Structure of In Defense for Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDEFEND), through its assigned coordinator, to help us in the campaign for the justice of a teen who had disappeared after he was arrested by the police.

Foremost in my mind, at that time, was that, with concerned national government agencies and networks contributing in our local campaign, the missing teen can still be found alive, and the persons responsible for his enforced disappearance are immediately identified.

But, I did not get any response from that person who was assigned to coordinate, or who had claimed to have been assigned to coordinate, local activities with the organization’s national structure.

Through the help of some friends in Manila, I was given an opportunity to be in contact with the focal person of the Filipino-American Human Rights Alliance (FAHRA) and iDEFEND.

I sent to FAHRA and IDEFEND all the pertinent legal documents and other papers that could serve as a backgrounder to the human rights situation in General Santos City. I also constantly updated them about the status of our search for the missing youngster and our other struggles for the protection of human rights in this part of the country.

I also requested FAHRA and IDEFEND to forward the documents that I had sent to them to concerned agencies of the government. After a long wait, I was furnished of a copy of a one-page press release which supposedly was distributed to various media outlets

Until now, I have no information whether that news article was, actually, published or not. But, this is all that FAHRA and IDEFEND-National did as their contribution to our struggle here.

From this time on, FAHRA and iDEFEND-National do not anymore respond to our emailed letters.

But, as I write this article, Rose Trajano of FAHRA texted me to inquire whether the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has already acted on the case of enforced disappearance of Phillip Bacudo.

The TFDP’s Belated Response

The Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) was the organization which was responsible in organizing the iDEFEND Chapter here in the SOCSKSARGEN area.

Its response to our call for help was belated. But, the publication of its report on the enforced disappearance of Phillip Bacudo had some positive impact on our struggle here in General Santos City. It contributed a lot in our struggle here at the local level.

Together with such published report was a draft letter, asking support from national government agencies and other organizations for our struggle here in General Santos City. This letter could be adopted by other organizations to be their own for the purpose of sending it also to concerned government agencies and civil society organizations.

What the TFDP did is exactly what we needed and which we still need until today.

The problem with the TFDP personnel is that, while I immediately respond to any of his communication, he does not easily respond to our own.

Dealing with Progressive Parties

I did not lose time in communicating with some progressive national political parties and some of our allies in Congress, but their reactions were made too late in the day.

Even the simple job of forwarding the documents that we have sent to them was not done, not after the lapse of the period of more than one month.

I am confused as to why they cannot do this simple act when they are supposed to be composed of idealistic and intelligent men and women who have been posturing to be champions of human rights and the other just causes of the citizenry.

But, I recognize the support that they have lately done – better late than never.

Actions of the CHR

I wrote the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), through its Chair Chito Gascon, to immediately put the family of the victims and their witnesses to the commission’s witness protection program, and to mobilize concerned government agencies to identify the culprits responsible for the enforced disappearance of the missing teen.

It was only after the lapse of one (1) month that Chito Gascon has responded to our call after he met with Raffy Albert, the chief of staff in the Office of Senator Risa Hontiveros.

Through his order, we were able to meet the functionaries of the CHR in Region 12 and, together, we made an agreement on how to secure the parents of the missing teen and their witnesses.

The 12-point agreement, which also involved financial aids to the parents of the victims and their witnesses, forged during that meeting is yet to be implemented, or yet to be given effect.

Our Dealing with the Office of the Vice President

I further contacted the Office of Vice President Leni Robredo immediately after the enforced disappearance of Phillip Bacudo had taken place, but we got no reply even after the lapse of a one-month period.

By late December (2017), I wrote, for the third time, Vice President Leni Robredo. I told her that, in requesting support from her, I was actually invoking the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between her and the labor Movement which I belong, the Sentro ng mga Progresibo at Nagkakaisang Manggagawa (Sentro), where she is obliged by such MOU to assist us during our moments of need.

I also reminded her that I was a witness to the forging of such MOU. Shortly before the end of year 2017, her chief of staff finally responded. Firstly, he apologized for the belated response, and, secondly, to tell me that our concern is now being studied by the legal team of the Office of the Vice President.

Early this January, 2018, I received another emailed letter, from one the employees under the Office of the Vice President, asking for our telephone numbers because, accordingly, she needs to communicate with us directly on the concerns that we have had raised with the Office of the Vice President.

But, as write this report, a certain Jasmin from the Office of the Vice President called me to inform me that Leni Robredo had already written City Mayor Ronnel Rivera and the Task Force Bacudo in connection with the Phillip Bacudo enforced disappearance case.

Dilly-Dallying in the SP

The action taken by the Sangguniang Panlungsod (SP) on my call for the legislative investigation on the killings in General Santos City was rather lackluster.

My request for the SP to investigate the killings in General Santos City was made still in September 22, 2016. But the first legislative investigation was made only on December 5, 2017.

Such investigation lasted only for two hours, considering that it was started at 3:00 in the afternoon, and it was adjourned for continuance at 5:00 in that same afternoon.

The second schedule of the investigation was set on the 15th of December, 2017, but it was postponed for a still undeterminable date and for an unknown reason.

Few days after Phillip Bacudo was reported missing, I brought the parents of the missing teen during the regular session of the SP, and I submitted to all its members a preliminary report detailing what had actually happened to the missing young man.

Lita Nunez and Jeng Gacal said that it may be tackled during the suspension of the house rules. Consequently, the house rules were suspended but the Bacudo case was not discussed during that session.

City Councilor Sandy Llido looked at the parents of the missing teen with a sympathetic eye upon reading my preliminary report. In fact, the parents of the missing teen were crying when Councilor Llido looked at them sympathetically.

City Councilor Lulu Casabuena personally promised me that she will mention the case of the enforced disappearance of Phillip Bacudo during her privilege speech, which was scheduled for that session day. Known for her plasticity, she did not do what she promised me.

That session ended without us hearing a squeak from the members of the SP.

But, We are Not Losing the Battle

The momentum of our fight for human rights here in General Santos City had been slowed down by the inaction and delayed actions of our national networks and allies.

But this will not deter us from continuing with our struggle until the end. Their delayed action or inaction does not, at all, mean that we are already losing the battle.

WHY EJKS ARE FOR REAL, AND NOT MERELY IMAGINARY

The police Officers’ Expertise in Warfare Makes Them Elusive Criminals

The country’s police agencies are composed of trained personnel not only in the field of police works, but also in warfare.

Warfare is basically a game of lies and deceptions. Our police officers, by virtue of this training, are considered expert in this art.

Thus, when police officers become criminals themselves in consonance with the state’s killing policies, it would be almost impossible for the people to catch them, or to gather evidences to legally pin them down.

Red Flags Indicating EJKs

In all my public pronouncements in General Santos City, I always emphasize that there are red flags on which the conclusion on whether there is EJKs or not could be anchored.

I really believe that EJKs exist when the killings become rampant and the manner through which they are done is tempered with impunity, and when police agencies are not actually seriously investigating these killings.

These red flags are unfurling high here in General Santos City. The killings are done with impunity, in fact, one of the killings had happened just few meters away from the central police station.

All these killing happened in broad daylight in the presence of the relatives of the victims and the community people. The killings were rampant and are not deterred by critical public commentaries.

The police agencies in General Santos City are observed to be not seriously investigating the killings and are not seriously running after the persons responsible for these killings.

Clear Indications that EJKs are for Real

Perhaps, the most logical paradigm that we can invoke to prove that, indeed, there is EJKs in General Santos City was the fact that, when the SP passed a resolution to conduct a legislative inquiry on the killings and when the same SP declared City Police Director Ruel Berango persona non-grata for such reason, among others, the killing rampage suddenly stopped.

This clearly indicates that police officers are really the ones responsible for the killings.  It is because, when the position of their police director was at stake, men riding-in-tandem suddenly put on hold their killing rampage.

This bolsters my belief that, indeed, extra-judicial killings are happening in General Santos City.

THE GREAT CAUSE I AM FIGHTING FOR

In all my writings, I am always trying to emphasize that our society will be plunged into great danger if we continue to condone the killings that are happening in General Santos City, as well as the country.

Police works involved not only preventing crimes and running after criminals, but they also involved the protection of the civil and political rights of an Individual.

When police agencies become havens of state criminals, our society is also plunged into great danger. Ordinary citizens will find themselves no match against the abuse of coercive instruments of the state, considering the resources at their disposal and also considering the fact that they actually share a portion of the awesome power of the state.

With police officers are given the power to act as arbiters for the person’s life and death, our society shall become a rogue state where the people have no rights and freedom.

Under such conditions, we are, at the same time, preparing the fertile ground for a social riot and flirting with street violence.

Certainly, our fragile democracy cannot survive with police officers acting as an accuser, as a prosecutor, as a judge and as an executioner, rolled into one.

When all the pillars of the country’s justice system are lodged solely on the police, our society would be pedaling back to the barbaric era where only the fittest survives.

We cannot allow this to happen. This is the noble cause that we are fighting for.

THE LEGACY WE ARE LEAVING FOR THE NATION

We have invented new approaches in the fight against extra-judicial killings in General Santos City. These approaches are yet to be pursued in other localities within the country.

Filing of Cases before a Local Court

We are the first to file the writ of amparo before a local court in the whole country https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1529242407164369&set=pcb.1529245143830762&type=3&theater.

We believe that the fight against EJKs would become more potent if we mobilize the families of the victims to file not only the writ of amparo, but other criminal cases against those responsible for EJKs.

We are very certain that, if these cases are being filed in all the localities in the whole country, incidents of EJKs will really have to stop as a matter of course.

Subjecting EJKs to Local Legislative Inquiry

This is an approach which is still alien other localities in the country. We are also the first to adopt local legislative investigation as a means to fight EJKs in the whole country.

Although, this is being done in a very lackluster manner by the local legislature in General Santos City, this approach is worth replicating in other localities.

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1482550525166891&set=a.417190181702936.103882.100002358739269&type=3&theater.

This is also proven to be very effective in combating EJKs.

I NOW BID YOU FAREWELL, JUST IN CASE

Speaking from the grave is actually speaking before the sudden separation of the spirit from the person’s body, through the behest of unauthorized human interventions, is to take place.

Rizal, with his Last Farewell, was so smart enough to do exactly this, to the misfortune of the Friars and the Spanish Conquistadores.

The threats against my life in General Santos City is real; it is never a concoction.

The prolonged campaign for human rights in General Santos City and for the justice of Phillip Bacudo, who is a victim of an enforced disappearance, is expected to create a lull in the very near future.

This interregnum, if it comes, is a dangerous time for me. It is because there is no more natural suspect if I would be harmed during this period covering the interregnum.

As always, any lull in the campaign for human rights renders all known deterrents ineffective and not functional. And this lull is sure to come.

IDEFEND-Socsksargen is not a funded organization. While it has national and international counterparts, iDEFEND-Socsksargen operates as if an independent Island, not because it is really so, but because of the failure of its national and international structures to lend their helping hands during its moments of need.

For now, its existence is solely dependent upon the sheer courage, determination and resourcefulness of its leaders.

Threats against my life are not imaginary. The killing policy of the Duterte Regime, as insidiously embodied in Oplan Double-Barrel and Operation Tokhang and as given flesh in various presidential pronouncements, has already emboldened police officers and personnel to engage in a killing rampage, under the protective “nanlaban” mantra and through vigilante-type killings.

During the hearings of the Bacudo enforced disappearance case, many of our comrades overheard the angry ranting among police officers, who were giving me their doggish stares, while I was intently watching, and assisting our lawyers during, the court debate.

They were staring at me, while literally gnashing their teeth in anger, during the time when I cannot notice them doing the same.

I was just informed of these after those hearings. Otherwise, I could have reprimanded them for doing what they did.

The families of the sixty six ordinary persons who were killed by men riding-in-tandem are not given justice not because the culprits are unknown or cannot be identified, but because they are afraid to fight for the justness of their respective causes.

They believe that it is wholly useless to do so, and that, in doing this, they will just be subjected to further reprisal.

By dragging police agencies to court through the filing of the petition for the writ of amparo and to the halls of the local legislature in General Santos City where they are subjected to legislative inquiry, police agencies are not only put to public shame but their vulnerabilities are also exposed.

Thus, if I will not be harmed for what I am doing in General Santos City, a public signal will be given that it is just entirely alright for the people to lodge a complaint against the police.

I am so certain that the police will not tolerate what I am doing because the Pandora box that keeps the truth behind the killing of the sixty six persons by men riding-in-tandem will be opened up, to their jeopardy and further shame.

As has been discussed by other analyst, Oplan Double-Barrel and Operation Tokhang are not only designed to wage a killing campaign, it is also a business enterprise.

This is because reward money is suspected to have been given to those who actually do the killings. What I am doing here in General Santos City is surely an obstacle for this business enterprise, and, therefore, for this reason, I could be an appropriate subject of elimination.

Minus all these, anything can really happen anytime because, under the present “new normal”, majority of the people is seemed to approve a situation where the right to give a verdict on the life and death of an individual is lodged solely on the police.

Thus, I bid you farewell in advance.

[MindaViews is the opinion section of Mindanews. Benjamin Sumog-oy is Action Officer of In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDEFEND) in General Santos City. He sent this year-end reflection for publication).

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