After dusk, when darkness sprawls over the metro — thieves, murderers and drug personalities find their most opportune time to do business. And where these hooligans leave a bloody mess, that’s where my duty as a graveyard reporter begins.
The dirty job takes some getting used to. But I’ve never thought that my graveyard shift will turn to its most literal sense.
Night after night, police operations end up killing numerous drug suspects. Vigilantes have joined the inquisition, throwing anonymous bodies on major thoroughfares. The numbers have increased dramatically.
Covering corpses has become a nocturnal routine for night shift reporters like me. But there are stories from the night’s watch that drain the life out of me — like only a dementor from Azkaban could. These are the moments when I have seen some of these men alive just a few minutes before they die.
The Merciless Mercy Shot
It was an exclusive story outside of Metro Manila. The authorities advised us that they had an armed encounter with two leaders of a notorious syndicate. My team dropped whatever story we were doing to teleport to their location.
Upon our arrival, the officers told us the place was already clear and we could cover the area. They have successfully neutralized the suspects who allegedly initiated gunfire.
But my assistant cameraman discovered one of the suspects was still breathing heavily. The suspect already had a bullet wound in his head yet he was still moving. We told the authorities that one of them was still alive; I was very near the suspect during that time. A police officer then told our team to keep our distance so he could assess the situation. I did an about face and I was just about to walk away. But then I heard a gun shot.
And just like that the suspect was dead.
I didn’t know what to make of it. I had no video proof because we had to move away. That was the first time someone else died while I was near. Yet seemingly, it was also a mercy shot since the suspect was dying anyway. Maybe I was in a state of paralysis analysis of what is wrong and what is right; I ended up doing nothing but write about it here.
The Final Walk
A few days later I had another coverage that I felt would end badly for the suspect, in one way or another.
Here was an alleged drug pusher who thought he was the subject of a police operation in his area (even though the police had a different target that day anyway). According to the authorities, when he learned a policeman was near his home, he opened fire against him. Luckily, the officer survived even after he sustained three bullets to his left shoulder and arm. The suspect then tried to escape the policemen who chased him. He hostaged some of his underage neighbors. It took three hours of negotiation before he surrendered.
I arrived in the police station just in time to see the handcuffed suspect as he was walking with escorts towards a police vehicle. He was about to undergo a medical examination so I decided to interview one of the hostages instead.
But I had an eerie foreboding when I saw the suspect walk away. This seemed like a familiar scenario. Fifteen minutes later, while I was in the middle of an interview with the hostage, an officer alerted me that the suspect tried to steal the gun of his escorts while inside the police vehicle. So they had to subdue him.
And just like that the suspect was dead.
To be fair, one of the police officers showed me a bite mark and scratches in his right arm as proof that the suspect really tried to wrestle them.
CCTV, Seeing Evil
I didn’t witness this next crime story personally. But this one is more haunting because people can replay the death of the victim over and over again. That’s what we get with the proliferation of closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras. The footage showed a barangay tanod (village guard) resting in a tricycle when four armed men riding-in-tandem in two motorcycles suddenly arrived and gunned him as he lay on the ground.
And just like that the victim was dead.
According to barangay officials, the victim was a drug pusher who has started to turn his life around as a tanod. Well, we won’t hear the side of the victim anymore — or any of the previous suspects for that matter. Dead men tell no tales.
License to Kill
There are countless more tales of the dead every night. My fellow news reporters estimate a daily body count of around ten to twelve just in Metro Manila. The story lines to these killings are simple yet strangely repetitive — an assortment of buy-bust operations and armed encounters. Most suspects would usually wield a caliber .38 handgun and would be in possession of at least two sachets of suspected shabu.
President Duterte has been clear with his message: “If you try to destroy my country, I will kill you. If you will destroy our children, I will kill you.” This is part of an intensified campaign against criminality, a promise to deliver results within three to six months.
Since the start of the Duterte administration, there have been 271 drug-related killings from the President’s first day in office (June 30, 2016) up to this Friday (July 22, 2016).
Of the 271 casualties, 125 died in legitimate police operations while vigilantism accounts for the rest. I’m sure these numbers have ballooned further by the time you’re reading this.
As they are fulfilling their duties, the PNP has a legal loophole granting them the justification to kill. If the suspect starts to become hostile and initiates an attack, any police officer can neutralize the said target in the name of self-defense. But the PNP is proud to report that only 4% of suspects end up dead. According to their records, they have more than 10,000 targets who have surrendered alive. For them, this is an indication that they are adhering to the protocol of human rights.
But make no mistake. The PNP is serious about sending a chilling message to people who will continue with their criminal deeds. Crime doesn’t really pay. But if one must insist, the payment is quite bloody.
But are all these dead suspects really guilty? We wouldn’t know; there was never any trial to begin with. And there lies a problem. Although some of these killings may be justified, it seems to have enabled a climate wherein anyone can kill.
Suppose you have an enemy and you just want to end his life. It can be as simple as a bullet to the head and a cardboard that indicates the corpse belonged to a drug pusher — even though it’s not true.
And just like that anyone can be dead. Case closed.
The Commission on Human Rights has been the subject of criticism of many Duterte supporters. Whenever the CHR would voice their concerns that even suspects have human rights, netizens would interpret this as a move to protect criminals. Some would even dare to ask: where is the CHR when the human rights of innocent victims are violated?
It’s a long debate, for sure. I didn’t write this to determine which side is right or wrong. But from my experience in covering these grim stories, I learned that these killings will seem distant to many people — until it happens to them or to their loved ones.
I recall when the Quezon City Police District had a supposed armed encounter with an alleged drug pusher inside the Balintawak Market. Well of course, just like that, the suspect died. But what bothered me was that he left a widow and two children: a two-year-old and a six-month-old infant.
Maybe they are the real victims in this battle.
The New Normal
Writing this is my way of confronting the demons of all these killings. Even though these incidents shook me to the core, I eventually realized I have to deal with these. From all indications, it seems this is our reality for now. And I have to make sense of it all to help the public create informed choices.
[Entry 156, The SubSelfie Blog]
About the Author:
Bam Alegre is the founder of SubSelfie.com and writes from time to time as a guest contributor. He is a News Reporter for GMA News (2012) and a Special Lecturer for the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of the East (2015). He was also part of the team that won GMA News the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award for the news coverage of super typhoon Yolanda (2013). Previously, he worked behind the scenes as a Segment Producer for State of the Nation with Jessica Soho and 24 Oras (2009-2012). He is also the vocalist, pianist and guitarist of the band No Parking (2005). BA Broadcast Communication 2007, UP Diliman. Read more of his articles here.