March for Justice

October 15, 2004

By any yardstick you care to use, there ain't much of a thing called justice in the Philippines.

Arbet Sta. Ana-Yongco was murdered this week in her home here in Cebu City. Her killer is still on the loose.
Today, hundreds of Cebuanos marched to demand justice in her name.

Arbet Sta. Ana-Yongco

Attorney Arbet Sta. Ana-Yongco was 37 years old. She was known as a human rights lawyer, volunteer and champion of children and women's rights, a devoted wife and mother, a devout Christian, and a sincere friend. She was also well-known for being the lead private prosecutor in the parricide (murder) case against Philippine Benevolent Missionary Association "Divine Master" Ruben Ecleo, Jr. Now she's a martyr. Yongco left behind her husband Filemon, and three young children: Arfil, David Christian, and Pia.
This past Monday morning, October 11, Yongco was shot dead inside her home-office. She was reportedly sitting on a sofa still in her housedress when a man with a long gray beard entered and pumped four bullets into her cheek and neck. She was brought to Perpetual Succour Hospital but was declared dead at 9 a.m.
There was immediate clamour in the media about her death. Many in the legal profession and cause-oriented groups have identified the murder as a dangerous threat to human rights in the Philippines. Several groups came together to plan today's "march of indignation."

A number of Cebu civil society groups participated in the march.
IBP Women's solidarity for justice
Lihok Ppilipina Foundation Inc. We condemn the heinous act
Abanse! Pinay Bantay Banay
Justice for Yongco JPIC
Sanlakas Sugbo Bayan CV


Marchers coming up Jones Boulevard to the Capitol. The Cebu SunStar reported 3000 participants.
Marchers coming up Jones Boulevard


Rally on the plaza in front of Cebu Provincial Capitol building.
Rally at Cebu Provincial Capitol building Rally at Cebu Provincial Capitol building


About 10 minutes into the rally I observed that all the male attorneys from the IBP (Integrated Bar of the Philippines) were over on the lawn, away from the rally, sheltering beneath the shade of a tree; while the women's organizations stood bravely in the hot sun. Who's the weaker sex?
Rally at Cebu Provincial Capitol building Rally at Cebu Provincial Capitol building


Many speakers....
Many speakers Many speakers
Many speakers Many speakers


Even in the midst of sorrow, Filipinos love to have their pictures taken.


Everybody got tired from the march, the heat and the two-hour rally...
Everybody got tired Everybody got tired


Even black armbands of mourning found their way to the ground....
black armband


Message of the day.
We need law not bullets!


The best happened at the end: somebody got the crowd to chant and raise their fists, pledging to bring justice in the case of their fallen heroine. It's the first time I've seen Filipinos standing together in militant solidarity....for me, an inspirational moment.
crowd solidarity crowd solidarity

And then the moment passed, and it was time for everyone to get back to their lives.....find a jeepney to ride home, and put something on the supper table for the family.

Solving the Murder

From the start, the murder case surrounding Arbet Yongco's death has been marked by the usual confusion, controversy, grandstanding, suspicion and infighting. Cebu Mayor Tommy Osmena immediately blamed Ruben Ecleo, Jr., for having masterminded the murder. The NBI (National Bureau of Investigation), the Regional Intelligence and Investigation Division (RIID), Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and the Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Bureau (CIIB) of the Cebu City Police Office have formed Task Force Yongco to solve the case, but have been issuing contradictory statements to the press, and there are allegations of duplicity and conflicting allegiance. For example, NBI Region 7 Director Reynaldo Esmeralda issued a public statement naming a primary suspect with no apparent connections to suspected mastermind Ecleo; but Esmeralda himself is a long-time friend of Orlando Salatandre, Ecleo's defense attorney, and Esmeralda's political patron is Surigao del Norte Senator Robert Barbers, who is also the patron of Ruben Ecleo. Yeah, it's a dirty mess already. So we'll see if justice gets served in this case....I doubt it. But you never know....
At least the death of Arbet Sta. Ana-Yongco has not gone unnoticed. I wish I'd had the chance to meet her.