Deaths of individuals that range from murder to freak accidents filled our pages last year. The deaths brought grief and anger, some of which influenced policies, events and institutions. Most of the incidents spurred calls for justice and reforms, and exposed the prevailing culture of impunity in the country.

On November 5, at around 5:40 pm, unidentified men onboard a motorcycle ambushed Judge Mario Anacleto Bañez of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 25 in Ilocos Sur province. He was driving home to Barangay Malmaltec in San Fernando City, La Union province.

According to the National Union of Peoples Lawyers, Banez was the 43rd member of the judiciary killed under the Duterte administration. A day before his murder, Armed Forced of the Philippines Deputy Chief of Staff for Civil-Military Operations Maj. Gen. Antonio Peralde urged the Supreme Court to probe judges who are dismissing cases against activists accused of being New People’s Army members.

On September 4, 2019, Bañez acquitted Rachel Mariano, a community health worker of trumped-up murder and frustrated murder charges filed by the 81st IB. The army accused her of participating in an October 2017 ambush by the New People’s Army in Quirino, Ilocos Sur. The incident resulted in the death of a soldier and wounding of another government trooper.

In October, authorities recovered eight corpses in a 30-meter ravine along the Marcos Highway in Sitio Poyopoy, Barangay Taloy Sur, Tuba, in Benguet province. During a two-day search, authorities found five corpses in various states of decomposition and two skeletal remains on October 15. They again discovered a decomposing body on the afternoon of October 16.

Police identified two of corpses as 28-year-old Fahad Manan Macalanggan and 22-year-old Kent Charlie Licyayo. The former is a Maranao and was a resident of Crystal Cave, Baguio City, while the latter is from Hingyon, Ifugao, and a resident of Hilltop, Baguio City. The third body identified was of Domilos Lamenta alias Junie Batang-e, a 30-year-old native of Tadian, Mountain Province. His former wife confirmed his identity through the corpse’s tattoo.

Authorities buried the remaining five bodies while continuing the search for their identities. The police collected DNA samples and appealed to relatives of missing persons to step forward to check if their kin is among those found. There has been no update to the case to date.

Meanwhile, the death of two Philippine Military Academy cadets stirred the academy and pushed officials to implement long-overdue reforms. One of the cases involved the torture and killing of a plebe while the other was a drowning victim.

Cadet 4th Class Darwin Dormitorio died on September 18 due to complications of the relentless torture he received from his upperclassmen. His death forced PMA Superintendent Lt.Gen. Ronnie Evangelista and PMA Commandant of Cadet Brigader General Bartolome Vicente Bacarro to resigned citing command responsibility.

PMA expelled the four cadets involved in the death of Dormitorio. Removed from the institution were Cadets 3rd Class Shelimar Imperial, Felix Lumbag, Squad Leader Cadet 2nd Class Nickoel Termil, and Cadet 1st Class Axel Rey Sanupao.

Dormitorio’s kin filed complaints against seven cadets involved in the incident. Indicted for violations of the Anti-Hazing Law were Sanopao, Iperial, Lumbag, Cadet 2nd Class Christian Zacarias, and Cadets 3rd Class John Vincent Manalo, Julius Carlo Tadena and Rey David John Volante for violating the anti-hazing law. Evangelista and Bacarro are also facing complaints similar raps.

On November 8 another PMA cadet, Cadet 4th Class Mario Telan was found dead in the 15-foot end of the academy’s swimming pool. Telan was found dead hours after attending his 11 am to 12noon swimming class.

Fires that razed hectares of forest in Benguet claimed five lives on February 20. The victims included Dante Molina, Noel Dagiyem, Marlon Guiniguin, and Dexter Labasan; forest rangers of the Philex Mining Corporation who tried to stop the fire from further spreading. Also killed in the accident was Leon Mocate, a resident in the area, who assisted the rangers.

Suspected military agents shot and killed Roberto “Bobby” Mejia of Ulopan na Umbaley ed (People’s Organization in) Camp Gregg Military Reservation on February 18 in Bayambang, Pangasinan. According to Bayan Pangasinan, the victim is a prominent personality in the fight against the land-grabbing of the Zamora clan and Willy Tan, owner of Hausland Realty. He was one of the leaders who actively participated in the 6-hectare bungkalan (idle lands-tilling campaign) in Sangcagulis village, which is part of the area claimed by the realtor.

On January 30, the prospect of the peace negotiations became bleaker after suspected state agents assassinated the National Democratic Front of the Philippines Consultant Randy Felix Malayao. He was sleeping onboard a Victory Liner bus bound to Isabela when the shooter pumped multiple bullets to his head and body. Malayao, a former political prisoner, was one of the only two NDFP consultants that have no pending charges. He maintains a column in Northern Dispatch were he provides regular updates about the peace negotiations. # nordis.net

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