December 8, 2023

The merciless killing of lawyer Maria Saniata Liwliwa Gonzales Alzate in the capital town of Bangued, Abra on Sept. 14 has stained anew the reputation of the province, known as the most conflict-ridden area in the Cordillera, after almost a year of peace and tranquility in its landscape.
While the special investigation group formed by the Police Regional Office-Cordillera to deal with the killing has not yet released its findings, two facts raise speculations.
First, the slain lawyer is one of the noted human rights defenders up north. Could the case be related to the spate of killings, disappearances, or oppression of human rights defenders?
The other is the timing of the assassination, which happened as the 2023 barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections is just around the corner, given that Abra remains a hotspot when it comes to election-related violence.
So even if concerned offices claim it is an isolated case, we say otherwise.
This, as the assassination of the wife of a retired court judge has caught the attention of those in the halls of Malacañang with the executive secretary, speaking in behalf of the president, extending condolences to the family of Atty. Alzate.
Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin described Atty. Alzate as a “fearless,” “steadfast” and “principled” lawyer who has always been unrelenting in her pursuit of justice.
Coincidentally, Bersamin, who hails from Abra himself, is the older brother of former Abra Rep. Chito Bersamin, who was a victim of assassination in December 2006.
While many Abrenians have reservations speaking out their mind on the possible resurgence of killings in the province, there is a general sentiment that now is the time for Malacañang to look seriously into the culture of fear and violence that has gripped Abra and its people for decades now.
Because countless political leaders, including mayors and lawmakers, as well as professionals such as Alzate, have fallen from assassins’ bullets in the past three decades, fear and violence is now deeply entrenched in the culture of Abrenians.
With Bersamin at the helm in Malacañang and with the power vested in him, he is in authority to direct the Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, and law enforcement agencies, in coordination with the Regional Peace and Order Council to draw long-term plans that will end the culture of violence in Abra.
Civil society and non-government organizations have a greater role to play in the long-time quest for lasting peace in Abra, especially during the election period, as they can help in galvanizing awareness about the impacts of violence, as some among their ranks are victims too. They must also be aggressive in promoting and advocating for peace and in providing support to the families of victims of violence.
It is high time for Abra residents to unite and not allow more people, such as Atty. Alzate to be just an added name to the list of victims, but to be remembered as esteemed individuals who have dedicated themselves to public service and community, and by this be inspired to keep igniting the ardor for achieving peace in the province.
Their tragic deaths leave a void in the political landscape and, more importantly, in the hearts of their families, especially their children. It is a stark reminder that violence should have no place in any democratic society.
Authorities must exert their best effort to bring these suspects or the brains behind these high-profile killings, and now in the Alzate murder case, to justice, as getting the crime solved the soonest will also bring relief to the grieving families.
Even as state forces are on alert for the 2023 BSKE, politicians in this generation may be trying their best to play clean and fair politics, but they still end up having discreet private armed followers to protect them, as one cannot seemingly be in politics without armed supporters.
The latest killing incident must serve as a great challenge to the people of Abra to walk the extra mile to reach a high level of maturity by selecting leaders who promote peace and development, not the culture of fear and terror.