In seven days, at least five people were killed by unidentified assailants in Cebu City—a lay minister was shot to death by a lone gunman while the victim was walking inside the public market of Barangay Inayawan on Nov. 28; a masseuse was killed by two motorcycle-riding hitmen in Barangay Mambaling on Nov. 29; and three persons, including a 16-year-old, were murdered inside a house believed to be a drug den in Inayawan on Dec. 5.

Except for the killing of the lay minister, the murders of the masseuse and three persons were linked to the illegal drug trade, according to the police.

Also on Nov. 15-16, the Cebu City Police Office (CCPO) recorded six fatalities in five shooting incidents, while three persons were wounded. At least four persons who may have carried out the shootings have been identified.

One of the five shooting incidents happened in Sitio Palwa Maria, Inayawan last Nov. 15. After Jake Fernandez Bas’ death on Dec. 5, the Pardo police said Bas was the hitman who killed two men reportedly involved in the illegal drug trade in the Palwa Maria shooting incident. An earlier report said the hitman (Bas) got jealous after he believed that one of the victims had an affair with his girlfriend.

The Dec. 5 Inayawan murders was gruesome as it was carried out by gunmen who wore bonnets around 5:30 a.m. when most residents were already awake doing their morning routines.

Some of the assailants blocked the house (identified by the police as a drug den), while others went inside to kill the occupants—Mark Pepito Aventurado, 16; Jake Fernandez Bas, 26; and house owner Ernie Gasalatan Sales, 39. The gunmen could have been members of a rival group that exacted revenge on Bas and company, the police said.

The assailants had no intention of letting the victims live as evidenced by at least 30 spent shells recovered from the crime scene.

Bas was able to run outside Sales’ house. He reportedly knocked on his neighbors’ homes, but no one let him in. He eventually got stuck in a pigpen where he later died due to loss of blood, police said.

The Pardo police chief said the three murder victims had links to illegal drugs. Bas, for his part, was a suspect in past shooting incidents.

Now, when police say that the victims were involved in criminal activities while they were still alive, their investigations often lead to nowhere. The usual reasons: There are no witnesses to crimes, or there are witnesses but they are afraid to talk; and the victims’ families, disheartened by the slow grind of the Philippine legal system, just give up pursuing justice.

Seeking justice is costly—it takes time and one has to spend money. It could also cost one’s sanity. It could also cost one’s life.

Remember the five persons who were massacred inside a van in Barangay Malubog, Cebu City in 2018? Three years have passed since the killings. The perpetrators are still at large. Justice for the victims is still in the wilderness.

There are murders involving known people that remain unsolved too. Just this year, freelance radio commentator Rey Cortes and human rights lawyer Rex Fernandez were killed by gunmen in Cebu City.

To be fair to the CCPO, it has solved murder cases in the past; however, the murders that remain unsolved in Cebu City, no matter how few, taint the organization’s standing if the cases remain unsolved.