“If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr.
By Alex P. Vidal
NO matter what some enemies of Bayan Muna partylist will say bout Jose Reynaldo “Jory” Porquia, history will always remember him as a patriot and a champion of the hoi polloi.
And whoever killed him Thursday (April 30) early morning near the beach in Barangay Santo Nino Norte, Arevalo district in Iloilo City, knew they didn’t silence Porquia’s advocacy for the people with his cold-blooded murder.
The 59-year-old Bayan Muna partylist coordinator and former chairman of the League of Filipino Students (LFS) in Iloilo, was reportedly fatally shot eight times at the time when he was active in the distribution of aid to the city’s urban poor communities.
We are not yet pointing an accusing finger to the uniformed authorities, but based on the chronology of events leading to Porquia’s assassination, the Philippine National Police (PNP), especially the Molo Police Station, should shed light on why a known personality in the progressive movement was slain in broad daylight when everyone was observing the enhanced social distancing guidelines in relation to the coronavirus pandemic.
Who would have the courage and boldness to carry guns and walk in a residential area with intent to murder an unarmed civilian amid the lockdown?
Porquia and other progressive organizations helping the urban poor amid the COVID-19 pandemic have been reportedly experiencing harassment from the PNP.
This was confirmed by the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) which condemned the “acts of surveillance and harassment perpetrated by the PNP” against the progressive organizations in Iloilo City in a statement dated April 16, 2020.
“Yesterday, April 15, police officers went to Brgy. San Juan, Molo and questioned the residents there about the source of food donations their community had received. Upon confirming that these came from Bayan Muna, the PNP discouraged the residents from consuming food brought by the said party-list and gave instructions not to allow outsiders into the barangay, even if only to give such donations,” read the NUPL statement.
“There are reports of similar instructions given by the PNP to at least two other barangays also in Molo district. Later that same day, members of Tulong Kabataan – a volunteer network of various youth groups, including Kabataan Party-list – were subjected to surveillance by PNP personnel as they were handing out food to the residents of Brgy. San Juan.”
Added the NUPL statement: “These incidents are alarming to say the least, although not entirely unprecedented. Bayan Muna, Kabataan Party-list, and other progressive organizations are no longer strangers to surveillance, harassment, and red-baiting from security forces. But in the context of a pandemic and the resulting hardships faced by the marginalized ‘sectors of society, the PNP’s actions were downright deplorable.
Even as numerous NGOs and private individuals respond to the call of Mayor Jerry Treñas to help address the impact of the Coronavirus outbreak, the PNP here – rather than supporting the private sector’s efforts to deliver aid to those in need – seems more interested and preoccupied with monitoring activists and dissuading people from accepting their help.
“The PNP’s actions in Iloilo City, taken together with numerous reports of abuse committed by its personnel as they enforce community lockdowns in various parts of the country – from beating and threatening to shoot people leaving their homes in Quiapo, Manila, to arresting vegetable vendors and residents of Quezon City who were merely protesting the lack of government aid – and yesterday’s ludicrous display of its crowd-dispersal capabilities in Cebu City, all show a distorted understanding of its role during a public health emergency.”
It added: “Instead of assisting and acting with sympathy towards a population beset by privation and uncertainty, the PNP apparently sees itself as little more than a blunt tool used for hammering down obedience, inflicting punishment for perceived infractions and imagined threats, and muzzling criticism no matter how legitimate and warranted.
“In case the PNP has forgotten, there is nothing illegal about giving food to the hungry. It is both a civic and a moral duty made imperative not least by the government’s own inadequacies in handling this emergency. In fact, the production and delivery of food and other basic necessities are activities that should not be hampered even during quarantine. Yet, in this city, as far as the police are concerned, the prompt and easy distribution of aid appears to have taken a backseat to political persecution.
“The PNP should immediately cease the surveillance and harassment of civil society groups and private individuals providing assistance to poor communities. The PNP should not make it any harder for these communities to get help. Most importantly, the PNP should realize that the authority it wields during this or any other emergency is always limited, first and foremost, by the law and, ultimately, by the people’s interests.”
The government should leave no stone unturned to identify Porquia’s killers and give him justice. The culture of impunity has smeared the country’s image, and unless the culprits are brought behind bars, the Philippines’ human rights records will continue to suffer a major decline in the international community.
Porquia’s murder will only embolden those who are involved in the feeding program for the urban poor and those actively involved in the pursuit for genuine social welfare and justice for the Filipino people and to continue the veteran activist’s legacy.
Justice for Ka Jory!
(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo)