US looked into 2005 EJKS in Cebu: Wikileaks document

A UNITED States Embassy 2005 document released by WikiLeaks says the US Government expressed to Cebu officials “strong deep concerns” over the extrajudicial killings that were then talked about and divided the city's political and civic sectors.

The report, titled “Police Actively Investigating String of Extrajudicial Killings in Cebu,” was among thousands of documents circulated recently by WikiLeaks, a non-profit organization that exposes secret information on politics, war and corruption.

Filed last Feb. 7, 2005 by a US Embassy two-person team that visited Cebu City four days earlier, the document was tagged “Confidential, No Forn (foreign distribution)." The team was sent to relay the US Government’s sentiment and find out what was going on in Cebu.

'Quite possibly'

Then regional police chief Florencio Gador told Joseph L. Novak, US Embassy’s deputy political counselor, and an unnamed senior political officer, that his police team collected evidence that “potentially incriminated local government officials, a group of police members called Hunter’s Team, and others in planning the killings during 'secret meetings' dating back to late 2004.”

Gador, the embassy report continued, “would not confirm what he meant by ‘local government officials’ but he indicated that Mayor Osmeña, among others, could be quite possibly involved." (Police didn’t specifically and categorically link Osmeña. The words “indicated" and "quite possibly" made it fall short of an outright accusation.)

Other local leaders, who were also disturbed by the killings, were not categorical, too, about Osmena’s involvement, as may be gathered from the US Embassy report:

--Cardinal Ricardo Vidal, then the archbishop of Cebu who condemned the killings, said he didn't know whether Osmeña was involved but "it was important that the mayor disassociate the city and its government from this black mark."

--Then Cebu governor Gwendolyn Garcia, described in the document as "long-time political opponent of Mayor Osmeña," told the embassy officials “what was going on was wrong and must be stopped." She said she had no legal authority in the city but she had “advised Osmeña to 'clean up the situation.'"

--Michael Rama, then Osmeña's vice mayor, said “Cebu has never had such violence” and he was "embarrassed for the city, which was losing its good name domestically and internationally." He said he urged Osmeña in a "personal conversation" to take action to halt the killings. But, Rama told the US Embassy officials, the mayor "would not agree to do so and would not condemn what had happened and he did not admit responsibility."

“Dirty Harry-like'

The US Embassy report noted that "observers believe that Osmeña has actually gained popularity through his 'Dirty Harry'-like remarks (which) indicated support for the killings." It also noted that "many in the business community apparently support the killings, believing the city faces rising crime and citing the need for firm action against it." Gador though confirmed "only a slight increase" in criminality in the city.

Why did Osmeña take the stand? The US Embassy report noted these from "observers" whom its officers talked with:

Osmeña “feared” that family popularity was "failing." (“Tommy won reelection as mayor but his nephew John Gregory lost his bid to be elected governor to Garcia”).

-- The mayor was “taking a cue from Davao, where Mayor Rodrigo Duterte has for years publicly underscored his support for extrajudicial killings and racked up big electoral victories, despite repeated condemnations from local and international human rights groups.”

Still no result

The visiting US Embassy officials saw "a positive note” in Gador's assurance the police “was actively investigating” the killings despite the "wall of silence" put up by city police and the mayor "who has made public comments seeming to favor" the serial executions. Gador said he had "explicit instructions" from then PNP chief Edgardo Aglipay "to get to the bottom of the violence."

But 12 years later, police still have to get anywhere near that bottom. Until now, whoever ordered the killings and those who fired the guns still have to be arrested and prosecuted. Even last year, following the assumption of President Duterte into office, there was a resurgence of vigilante killings in Cebu but it was brief. And like the 2004-2005 EJKs, the “new” murders still have to be solved.
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