Editorial: Uprooting the culture of impunity

A distressing offshoot of the ambush of lawyer Karen Q. Gonzales and her teenage son in Mandaue City last Sept. 1, 2022 were online speculations about how the former’s professional and personal life triggered the attacks.In a statement condemning the attacks against the mother and son, the Cebu Port Authority (CPA), whose business and marketing department was headed by Gonzales, urged citizens “not to share insensitive media posts regarding the incident nor further disclose personal information of the victims that could jeopardize their safety and privacy,” reported the SunStar Cebu team of Laureen Mondoñedo-Ynot, Benjie B. Talisic and Honey I. Cotejo on Friday, Sept. 2.The online scrutiny of the victims creates flashbacks to the misogyny surfacing after former Cebu City Assistant Prosecutor Mary Ann Castro was ambushed and killed by unidentified assailants on Jan. 17, 2019.While both Castro and Gonzales are public figures in a sense—Gonzales is admired as an occasional actor portraying roles with empathy in independent films and Castro was outspoken about controversies linked with her—the women are reduced by online incivility into caricatures of melodrama where women are conflated with victims and victims are equated with powerlessness and blaming.By scrutinizing victims as if they were somehow responsible for attracting the violence and deflecting the cry for justice and accountability away from the perpetrators, online incivility in crimes involving women is endemic in the network promoting the culture of impunity.According to Ifex, a global organization of over a hundred nongovernment organizations promoting freedom of expression and access to information, impunity means that an act violating a person’s life, human rights and freedom has no consequences on the perpetrator, only the victim and society.In the culture of impunity, this lack of consequences and accountability for perpetrators have a chilling effect on citizens, especially victims and persons made vulnerable by their beliefs, advocacy and associations with the powerless and marginalized.A culture of impunity exposes citizens to the constant threat of being punished for expressing views that counter those of the powerful or from performing their professional and civic responsibilities.The restraints snowball from self-censorship to paranoia and mistrust of social institutions that are supposed to stabilize society through the rule of law, social justice and defense of civil liberties.The Sept. 2 SunStar Cebu report quoted the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Cebu City Chapter statement on the ambush of lawyer Gonzales and son that 14 lawyers have been killed in Cebu since 2004.Many of the victims “have not yet been given the justice that they had studied and served during their lifetimes,” said an IBP Cebu City spokesperson.In a March 15, 2021 article by Carlos H. Conde, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) cited the data collated by the news website Rappler that 110 lawyers were killed from 1972 until 2021, with 61 of those killings taking place since 2016, when President Rodrigo Duterte started his administration.Since 2004, charges were filed only in seven cases where the victim was a lawyer. This pattern shows that there is “lack of accountability for serious crimes in the Philippines,” assessed the HRW.Despite the tentacles of “fear, apathy and suspicion” paralyzing a public grown cynical to threats, attacks and murder carried out with impunity against lawyers, journalists, activists, indigenous peoples and other vulnerable groups, the Ifex asserts that “no culture of impunity is invincible, no matter how entrenched.”Citizens can begin by calling out insensitive and uncivil online discussion blaming victims of violence, and pressuring authorities to bring perpetrators to justice.