STRIKE HOME| Death squad is all in the imagination  

ONE FAVORITE story in bus terminals in the early 1990s was that of a Davao-bound driver from Cotabato who refused to listen to a passenger’s plea for a call of a nature.

Kalibangon lagi ko,” shouted the elderly woman from the back row as she called anew on the driver to stop the bus so she could high-tail it momentarily to a nearby coconut grove.

Ah, nay’ huna-huna lang nimo na,” the uncaring, devil-may-care, insensitive driver shouted back as he stepped on the accelerator. “It is only in your imagination, grandma.”

Poor grandmother, she was at a loss on what to do but decided to shut her mouth. A few minutes passed and all seemed back to normal as the bus sped past Toril on the way to the city.

Suddenly, the driver and the passengers noticed something wrong with the air. There was no mistaking it: the smell of a newly-deposited “night soil” at the rear end of the bus wafting in all flagrance all over the air-conditioned bus. Our grandmother by that time has moved farther front, relief on her face.

Unsa man ng baho diha?” the driver barked. “Morag adunay nalibang.”

Dong’ basig huna-huna lang nimo na,”   replied the old woman without looking at nobody in particular. “Perhaps it is only in your imagination.”

This blast from the past resurfaced rather subconsciously when a group of Davao City policemen told the Senate hearings that no such thing as the so-called Davao death squad existed and that it was actually just a media hype.

To the question why investigation on several killings were never wrapped up, one policeman indicated the absence of witnesses made it futile to continue.

This was same dilemma faced by no less Senator Leila de Lima when she investigated the so-called extra-judicial killings in the city when she was the chair of the Commission on Human Rights: the lack of credible witnesses.

It is same dilemma faced by the Senate hearings itself because for all the supposed “recitation of facts” that Edgar Matobato spewed out, there was no corroborating evidence to back his claims. In journalism, his claims are merely assertions that could not stand on their own.

That they eventually passed as news was because these were unveiled in a Senate hearing, providing them the significance and prominence that would qualify them as news.

With the testimony of the police officers, the conclusion that can be drawn is that unless proven otherwise, the so-called death squads existed solely in some people’s imaginations.

De Lima apparently was convinced it existed. It is possible that as a trained lawyer she must have seen something that more than pricked the imagination. Let us give credit to her for that.  She is not your typical abogada de campanilla but one helluva lawyer who must have also set her sights on no less than the Philippine presidency itself.

But rather than work on her hunch or initial findings, she slept on them when she became the Secretary of Justice and thus missed the one ticket to greatness. By then, the cases have grown cold and any chance these could be prosecuted to their logical conclusions dimmed with the passage of time.

But if she made it to the front pages as CHR occasionally, she found out she could actually orchestrate the news as Secretary of Justice. Suddenly, she was in the public eye every time she opened her mouth, visits some facility or initiates an impeachment case.

What she failed to factor in was that never in her wildest imaginations did she expect that one Davao mayor, which her investigations tried to link to some extra-judicial killings, would one day become Philippine president.

Suddenly, she was staring at a new ball-game with her no longer at the center of public attention but as mere role player whose views were no longer considered prime news.

Hence, her initiation of a Senate hearing on the extra-judicial killings was doomed from the start. First, she and her allies do not have the numbers, both in the Senate and in the House of Representatives. Second, Matobato’s testimony was shot through with holes and it does not need any imagination to note that his presence in the halls of Senate was proving more of a comedy than an opportunity to strengthen legislation.

Somebody said it right. Senator Leila should take a rest. My suggestion is for her to visit the sites. The waves along Siargao Islands are unruly at this time of the year, so I would suggest the beaches of Mati but the island of Talikud can also be a refreshing change and as perfect place for reflection and illumination.

Posted in Opinion