A thousand peso fallacy: The worth of human rights

By Beatriz Zamora

On the fifth of September, a gray sky stood witness to a boy’s funeral.

In Aliw Cemetery in Pateros, people lit candles in memory of 19-year-old Carl Angelo Arnaiz, who was killed by Caloocan City cops on the evening of Aug. 18.

On the steps of Alonso Hall in UP Diliman, hands clutched painted placards bearing the name of the same boy who walked the same halls they now stand in.

Now, his name is part of the many who have been victimized by the system these students have fought–and are still fighting–so hard against.

Both scenes happened in the aftermath of a death that was untimely and unjust. Both reminded the responsible that this was a murder which would never be forgotten, much less forgiven, along with the thousands of cases which preceded it.

Arnaiz had been missing for more than a week before he was found in a morgue in Caloocan, cities away from Cainta, Rizal, where he lives with his father and grandmother.

The police claimed the former UP Diliman student held up a taxi cab along the C3 highway and fired shots at authorities which supposedly caused them to fire back, ultimately shooting Arnaiz to death.

For the cops, this was what ensued on the night he went missing. But for those who truly knew him, this version of events was a cheap cover-up for the true story of how a boy was robbed of an entire life laid out before him.

Like any other

“Nothing but inconsistencies, clearly a fabricated scripted killing,” said Arnel Olofernes, who was Arnaiz’s teacher in math back when he was a freshman and a senior student in Makati Science High School (MakSci).

Olofernes  remembers his former student as a reserved boy. He was naturally gifted, he said, and often had to be pushed to speak up in class and give the answer to questions everybody else had difficulty answering.

Yet Arnaiz, he shared in an online interview, was a wholly different person when he was around his usual crowd. As was typical of high school students back then, the group of friends were obsessed with playing Defense of the Ancients (DotA) during after-school hours.

“Puro DotA, walang problema sa subject ko kase naturally gifted s’ya doon eh. Pero sa ibang subjects na alam mo na madaming pinapapasang requirements, doon sila nayayare kasi ‘di nagawa ng homeworks and projects kase nagdoDotA,” he said fondly.

Arnaiz’s crowd consisted of varsity players whom Olofernes also coached after classes. He was supportive of them, the teacher shared, and had been friends with them from the moment they entered MakSci.

Olofernes always made it a point to be close to his students and Arnaiz was not an exception. More than a math teacher from his past, Olofernes also guided Arnaiz with his struggles in the university.

“Actually pinayuhan ko din si Carl sa struggles nya sa UP kase ganyan din ako, three years ako sa UP Diliman e tapos sibat,” he shared.

Ardently calling him by his nickname, “Chibaku”, after Arnaiz’s favorite Japanese animated series, the MakSci teacher recalled his refusal to believe his student’s death when he found out via Twitter after his former varsity player posted the news.

“Nanlamig ako,” he said. It was a brief statement, an honest account of what it was like when he first heard that his former student’s life was cut short to 19 years.

He added, “Actually, nakakagulat kasi talaga, ‘di ba, na ‘yong mga nangyayari sa ngayon [tapos] biglang ang directly involved ay kilala ko. Parang narealize ko na bakit ganun? Ganito na kagulo, yung kay Kian magagalit ka sa balita, ‘di ba? Bakit ganoon, pero nangyari kay Carl. Putang ina, ayan ang eksaktong words.”

Likewise, Arnaiz’s high school friend Kieth Dagondong, calls for accountability from the state.

Nakakalungkot kasi sinayang nila ‘yong buhay ng kaibigan ko. Sinira nila ‘yong mga pangarap ni Carl. Nakakapanggalaiti na naging biktima siya ng pasistang estado. Binaboy siya at nilapastangan,” he said.

They initially knew each other from various competitions back in elementary school. Both valedictorians upon entering MakSci, Dagondong and Arnaiz became part of the same circle of friends who not only excelled in class but also dedicated a fair amount of their time in computer shops.

Both of them went to UP Diliman in college, and even though they were separated from their friends who attended UP Los Baños, the boys would reunite during their mutual friend’s birthday, usually a sleepover.

He further continued, “Mas nagbibigay siya ng drive para ibigay ung hustisyang nararapat para sa kanya at matigil na ang ganitong sistematikong pagpatay.”

Today, Dagondong gives tribute to the memory of his friend through fighting for justice and civil liberties as a member of a mass organization. “Sa pamamagitan siyempre ng pagmumulat sa masa at pago-organisa para matigil na ‘to,” he said.

Systematic injustice

But Arnaiz was not an isolated case. Just two days before he disappeared, 17-year-old senior high school student Kian delos Santos was made a victim of police brutality when officers mercilessly shot him to death.

Before his death, delos Santos was very vocal about his dreams of being a police officer because he was scared of drug addicts. Little did he know, being tagged as his worst fear would get him murdered by the people he aspired to be.

Just days after news on Arnaiz’s death broke out, the lifeless body of his companion surfaced in Nueva Ecija who was identified as 14-year-old Reynaldo de Guzman. De Guzman was tortured, according to experts, and was stabbed at least 25 times before his body was thrown into a river in Gapan, Nueva Ecija.

Both Arnaiz and delos Santos were accused of firing at the authorities, thus seemingly making their deaths justifiable. The two cases are attributed to police precincts within Caloocan.

With the awarding of Best City Police Station to the Caloocan City Police on the day of Arnaiz’s death, the message could not get any clearer.

The city was lauded for having the highest number of targets “neutralized”, as well as the highest accomplishment rate for Project Double Barrel, according to a statement released by the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO).

Pinatunayan ng magakakasunod na parangal mula mismo sa DILG at NCRPO na ang magandang koordinasyon ng pulisya at lokal na pamahalaan ay magbubunga ng epektibong sitwasyon kaya nga ang Caloocan police ay tumanggap ng parangal bilang Best Police Station,” read a statement published on Caloocan City Mayor Oscar Malapitan’s Facebook page.

But in the wake of the killings, one message remained strong: change is not coming. At least, not from the very hands which restrain it.

Anakbayan CHE Chairperson Jasper Villasis strongly believes in the power of youth and collective action to fight for the justice the state deprived of Carl, as well as the thousands of others who were also victims of Oplan Tokhang.

Instead of responding to the people’s demands for their rights, the government answers with brute force.

“August 18 ng madaling araw kinaladkad si Carl, pinosasan, pinaluhod, binugbog at tsaka pinagbabaril nang ilang beses. At sinong matinong ulo yung magsasabi na justifiable ang Oplan Tokhang?” he said in a speech last Sept. 5.

Only earlier today, the House of Representatives approved the meager amount of P1,000 as the budget of the Commission of Human Rights (CHR) in 2018. One of the cited reasons was the agency’s ineffectivity in addressing human rights abuses committed by terrorists. But what many fail to understand is that the CHR only has jurisdiction over rights violations made by the state.

The Commission was created during the late Corazon Aquino’s presidency, when the country was only recovering from Ferdinand Marcos’ tyranny. It was a response to the Marcos dictatorship to decades of government abuse.

Reminiscent of the years the country has spent under Marcos’ military rule, the people are again made victims by the same institution that has vowed to protect them.

“Sino ang magsasabi na tama ang ginagawa ng estado kung sa araw-araw ay may pinapatay, sa araw-araw ay pinagkakaitan ng karapatan?” Villasis said.

And a week after Arnaiz was laid to rest, it seems, that the sky still mourns not only for those who were slain but for a state which glorifies its own sinners and preys after its own saints.

Author: TNP

The Official Student Publication of the UP College of Mass Communication.