Six years past, six years more?
Ferdinand Marcos was a product and survivor of, and implicated in, the brutality lurking just under the surface in our national politics and institutions—ranging from his nearly dying in his fraternity initiation to being tried for murder in the famous Nalundasan case in his home province of Ilocos Norte featuring spectacular political murders—but his son was shielded from it, and quite obviously has no taste for it.
Asked about the assassination of Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo, President Marcos said in a news conference that “This one is particularly terrifying and it’s really … I don’t know. This does not belong in our society.” Degamo’s killing, he added, “is entirely unacceptable and it will not stand. This cannot go unpunished.” What followed was a kind of political dragnet in slow motion, as Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr. was mentioned as the potential mastermind of the rubout, and the House of Representatives then engaged in a kind of zarzuela in slow motion, with the speaker and various representatives issuing statements and counterstatements, with the whereabouts of Teves himself being murky for quite a time.
There are two faces of Teves: the polished one of Margarito and the mercurial one of Arnolfo Jr. Their family having married into that of Hermenegildo Villanueva, the prewar kingpin of Negros Occidental politics, a Teves has featured in the roster of provincial officials since the Commonwealth, increasingly becoming dominant from the Third Republic to martial law, including dominating the first district for most of the postwar to martial law era, and nimbly transitioning the replacement of one, Marcos-affiliated family member, Lorenzo G. Teves, with another, Herminio G. Teves, more acceptable to the post-Edsa democratic government. They established a lock on the newly created third district, holding it exclusively from the time it was established in 1987 to the present. They were less successful when it came to the governorship: Since 1987, only Pryde Henry Teves made it—and briefly, at that, having to relinquish office to Roel Degamo who was proclaimed winner of the 2022 polls by the Comelec.
For the postwar generation, the face of political murder was that of Moises Padilla, for whom defeat wasn’t enough: He was taken from town to town, and beaten in public, as a demonstration of what happens to those who challenge the powers that be. He was supposedly shot while trying to escape, though the autopsy revealed his legs had been broken before he was shot; his grisly murder helped propel Ramon Magsaysay, who’d promised him protection, then vowed to seek justice, to the presidency. In the twilight of the Marcos dictatorship, the 1985 Escalante massacre claimed the lives of 20 peasants.
For us, today, there are many faces of political murder in adjoining Negros Occidental, where Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla says there “is a pattern, a pattern of impunity that we did not sense before. It’s something that is so new to us.” He added that “it’s very hard to imagine this happening before. But now that this happened, the stories are beginning to make sense that there was a pattern of impunity within the area.” A quick scan instantly reveals what has so recently dawned on him: The list of murders there includes activists in 2017; peasants in 2018; 14 in a “lawless violence suppression” campaign in 2019; radio broadcaster Renato Blanco in 2022; in Bayawan City, in October 2022, councilors Cenon Cardona and Diosdado Gemina; a defeated candidate in November; and earlier this year, as a commentary in the Bohol Chronicle notes, the “interesting tale” of the murder of a Dutch national and his Filipino wife by motorcycle-riding gunmen early in February, followed two days later by the murder of a friend of the couple who “was allegedly suspected of having a hand in the murder of Don Paolo Teves (42) younger brother of Valencia town mayor Edgar Teves Jr. on Feb. 3.”; then came the liquidation of Degamo and others earlier this month.
That scholar of political murder, Peter Kreuzer, whose work I’ve mentioned before in this space, published a paper on ”Killing Politicians in the Philippines: Who, Where, When, and Why” in 2022 where he summarizes his findings as follows: “For the Philippines, all available evidence suggests that organized crime does not play a role and is not instigating the killing of politicians. However, the communist New People’s Army, which is still active in a number of rural regions of the Philippines, can be identified as an actor that commissions and carries out targeted killings of politicians. Since Duterte’s campaign against drug-related crime, a number of politicians have been killed by police. These killings were consistently underpinned by the narrative that these politicians were drug criminals who violently resisted arrest. Although these actors outside mainstream politics play some role, they are likely to be collectively responsible for no more than 10 percent of the killings. By reconstructing several local dynamics of violence, some of which span several decades and resulted in casualties among several groupings, this report advances the argument that politicians from the establishment are responsible for the vast majority of targeted killings of politicians.” In other words, the killers of politicians are other politicians, though recently some instances might have been disguised as being casualties in the so-called “war on drugs.”
That being the case, we can read between the lines of the President and secretary of justice’s statements. The missing context is one laid out in the Bohol Chronicle commentary I quoted above: in a span of 18 days, four government officials were targeted—the governor of Negros Occidental was killed, while that of Lanao del Sur survived; a Cagayan vice mayor was killed in Nueva Vizcaya while a Maguindanao mayor was slain in Pasay City. According to the commentary, “two of the assassinations involved camouflaged military-garbed personnel and three of the four incidents were stage-managed in areas outside the political jurisdiction of the victim-politicians.”
If the previous dispensation had been marked by bringing to the national what had long been a feature of the local—liquidations, whether of officials or the poor, so that it was only relatively sheltered urban civil society that was shocked—the problem now is that no one can keep thinking it was only a six-year aberration. The past six years show no signs of ending in this, the first year of the Restoration. Even as police commands are reshuffled, the national leadership also has to confront the troubling possibility the lower ranks of the military have discovered the allure of being guns for hire.