Impunity: Murder as Meme

The first responder was sure there was at least one body – the naked curve of the back and the denim waistband showed just under the crumpled pile of garbage bags. What might have been another body was curled on the sidewalk, swathed in the same black plastic. The head was bound tight with a crosshatch of packing tape, and looked, from afar, like a goalie's helmet. 

They had been tossed along Calle Estacion in Pio del Pilar, Makati at dawn on Thursday, December 1. There were no CCTV cameras. What light was available came from the streetlights planted along the Arnaiz Skyway, curving three stories above the two-lane road.

It was a little girl who first brought word. “A certain Mary Jane” had been asleep in the grass when the gunshots rang out at past one in the morning. She ran straight to a nearby village hall. The cops came running, through the pile of black bags spilling into the sidewalk. It might have been a bomb. They called for Makati’s Explosive Ordnance Dispersal team. The EOD came. They said there were bodies and were told they were bodies.

The first responders drew chalk circles around the bullet casings scattered on the street. A sheet of paper had been left under the first body. It was maybe twenty minutes before a photographer flipped over a frame and zoomed into the inch-high letters.

Nagmahal

Nasaktan

Nagtulak

Namatay

#Nagmahal

There was a collective gasp among the gathered press. One reporter began laughing. Someone shot a frame from another angle, and saw the hashtags scrawled before every word.

#FellinLove

#WasHeartbroken

#DealtDrugs

#WasKilled

The words, a grim parody of an internet meme on moving on from a relationship, was popular among the millennial set. Fill in the blanks. Fell in love, was heartbroken, got drunk. Fell in love, was heartbroken, went to class. Fell in love, was heartbroken, got high, got pretty, got laid, took a nap, climbed a mountain, ate a burger, took a selfie – moved on.

The investigators arrived, marked the chalk circles with numbers one through ten. Eventually a cop lifted the paper sign. A corner had been dipped in blood.

#Nasaktan

The investigators cut through the plastic bags, struggling through the stretched tape. The bag torn open to show the bound legs in the khaki shorts, the grimy soles, the bloodstains on the gray shirt. He was short, hollow-cheeked, 5'2 and scrawny. The men from the morgue lifted the corpse onto a stretcher, leaving behind a thin smear of blood about a foot wide on the sidewalk. They covered the body with a faded flowered sheet. 

The second man was “a little chubby,” as Police Senior Inspector Valmark Funelas said. He measured 5'9. His head, once freed from the black plastic, had been wrapped in packing tape. The investigator ran a cutter under his chin. The eyes were closed, but his mouth was wide open, lips folded inward over the teeth in what looked to be a futile attempt to breathe. They found more of the garbage bags down his throat. The investigators reached in, and uncoiled the ropy length of plastic from the dead man's mouth. 

There was a second sign taped over the body of the skinnier man.

#Nagmahal

#Nagbasag-kotse

#Nagtulak

#Namatay

The man may have been a suspected carnapper, said the police chief. The officers had spoken to village watchmen in the area, nobody knew whom the dead men were, if they were residents of Pio del Pilar or the neighboring San Isidro. 

#FellinLove

#BrokeIntoCar

#DealtDrugs

#WasKilled 

The initial investigation is inconclusive as to where the executions may have taken place.

“They were dumped here,” said Funelas, “but it isn’t certain if they were already dead. The term the police use is ‘finishing’ because there were slugs found there, there were empty shells. There were still gunshots.”

It is not the first case of dead bodies tossed along Calle Estacion. Funelas remembers one more incident. He is uncertain as to the date, but says it is within the last five months of the administration of Rodrigo Duterte.

#Nagtulak

At least three more men were summarily executed in Metro Manila in the hours before dawn on December 1. In Village 21 in Caloocan, a man was found curled on the sidewalk, hands bound behind his back, the plastic wrapped head resting in a pool of blood. In Payatas-B in Quezon City, a village watchman, allegedly a police drug informant, was shot in plain view just down the street from a wake. His wife fell weeping over his body just before they pulled the zipper on his body bag.

In Caloocan City, according to dzBB, a body was found along Letre Road in Village 8. His own placard, a sheet of brown cardboard, was found just beside his body, just as 15,000 protesters held up placards painted with witticisms at the People Power Monument.

#Sorry# 

Wag akong tularan

“Pusher” ako,

Snatcher ako

“Sorry" ☺ sa mga nabiktima ko

Bawi na kayo

Bayad na ko

Happy faces punctuated the sentences. Sorry, it said, do not be like me. I am a drug dealer. I am a snatcher. Sorry to the people I have victimized. We’re even now. I have paid my debt. 

The man’s head was wrapped in dark plastic, and striped with packing tape. Another note was scrawled down the side of the sign, in smaller letters.

Kaibigan, Pot 2x at Luloy, magkikita na tayo. Nainggit ako sa inyo. ☺ Hehehe 

Friends Pot Pot and Luloy, it said, I’ll be seeing you. I was jealous of you guys. Hehehe. 

#Namatay

The first reported summary execution in this fashion – the head wrapped in tape – was in early July, just under the MacArthur Bridge. The cardboard sign called the dead man a dealer. In the months since, there have been at least 3,841 extrajudicial killings, outside of the over two thousand killed in police operations. Many of those murdered by unknown assailants were found with cardboard signs propped beside their bodies, calling them addicts, pushers, dealers.

In recent weeks, the range of accusations has gone beyond drug involvement – snatcher, housebreaker, carnapper. There are jokes, attempted witticisms, the occasional scribbled drawing. Manila is where murder has been reduced to a meme. 

On November 16, two weeks before killers took it upon themselves to apologize on behalf of a man they killed, a body was found face down along Chapel Road in Pasay City. The particulars were the same: the head wrapped in yellow tape, the hands bound together, the letters printed with a black marking pen accusing him of dealing drugs.

I am a drug pusher, it said, do not become me.

Then the cops turned the body over. It was when the increasingly commonplace shot straight into the stuff of parody. 

Someone had taken the same marking pen used to write on the cardboard sign. Eyes, nose, and a grinning mouth had been drawn over the wrapped face of the dead man. – Rappler.com