BAGUIO CITY (Sept. 19) – The city council is poised to delve into the “informal blessing” reportedly given by acting Mayor Reinaldo Bautista Jr. to the rising incidents of “summary execution” of criminals in the city.
The 14-member city council tasked its committee on human rights, justice, public protection and peace and order to investigate the issue, after the committee chair, Councilor Jose M. Molintas, raised a serious concern about Bautista’s “irresponsible” remarks.
Hindi ba dapat lang?
In his weekly “Ugnayan” press briefing on Sept. 14, Mayor Bautista reportedly thanked the police for doing a “clean-up drive” to get rid of criminals even without due process. The implication is that it is all right to kill criminals “especially when they are caught in the act.”
According to reporters who covered the press briefing and raised followup questions, Bautista even told them, “Hindi ba dapat lang?” (Isn’t that what we really ought to do?)
A few minutes later, Bautista explained that laws must still be followed in dealing with criminals. He added that he will ask the police to more thoroughly investigate the said killings.
Series of killings
A series of mysterious killings have haunted this highland resort city since Sept. 9, when a dead man was found dumped along a drainage canal along Ambuklao Road within the city. The unidentified victim bore gunshot wounds.
On the night of Sept. 13, a man was shot at close range by a gunman wearing a ski-mask in front of the Piltel Baguio office. Police did not release the victim’s identity, but said that he was an umbrella hawker and a “police character.”
In a separate incident, two dead males were also found dumped in Brgy. Balatoc, Itogon town, Benguet a few kilometers from here.
Lawyers and dads chide mayor
Bautista’s remarks triggered quick reactions from several human rights lawyers and local lawmakers.
Reynaldo Cortes, head of the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA), said that Bautista’s remarks “reflects his immaturity.” Cortes added that the acting mayor does not respect the rule of law, and thus has no right to be in public office.
Bautista, 38, became acting mayor two weeks ago after the Dept. of Interior and Local Government slapped a double six-month suspension on elected Mayor Braulio Yaranon.
Abelardo Estrada, president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) for Baguio-Benguet and concurrent IBP governor for Northern Luzon, reiterated that “summary killings have no place in civilized society.”
“Justice must be dispensed with in the way the law so provides,” Estrada said, adding that no law gives police the right to kill a person no matter how criminal he is perceived to be.
Councilor Molintas, another veteran human rights lawyer and former head of the Cordillera Indigenous Peoples Legal Center (Dinteg), also slammed Bautista for his “irresponsible statements” that may encourage law enforcers “to short-cut and deny due process.”
“It is unfair for the police authorities to be implicated (by Bautista) to have been committing these (killings), because these acts are illegal,” Molintas added.
Councilor Edilberto Tenefrancia warned Bautista, now that he is mayor, to be more careful in issuing remarks that might breed disregard for due process.
Police said they were also baffled about the series of killings. Baguio City Police officer-in-charge Sr. Supt. Noel Manabat strongly denied the existence of a Baguio-based vigilante group or death squad.
BCPO spokesperson SPO3 Viyo Hidalgo explained that vigilante groups appear only in areas where the residents cannot trust the police in running after criminals. In the case of the BCPO, Hidalgo claimed that there is a high level of public trust.
BCPO head Sr. Supt. Isagani Nerez, who is on study leave for a two-week course in Thailand, was unavailable for comment. # Ace Alegre for NORDIS