By LEILANIE ADRIANO
BADOC, Ilocos Norte.—The birthplace of famous Filipino painter Juan Luna here, 340 kilometers north of Manila, appears to be a peaceful community of hardworking farmers on the outside. A portion of the 30,000 residents do not even own a parcel of land or a stone house as many in this third-class town of 31 barangays do.
But some households own at least one high-powered gun, sometimes more, especially in the village of Nagrebcan that has been dubbed a haven of hired killers.
Many of those on the Philippine National Police’s list of most wanted criminals come from this village. Hadji Palafox, whose house stands on a partly paved and rugged road, is one of them.
A gun-for-hire operative who has been slapped a string of murder cases since early 2000, word has long had it that Palafox masterminded the killing of Judge Ariston Rubio on Oct. 31, 2001, but this has never been proved. Palafox is also a member of private armed groups (PAG) in Badoc, according to the police.
Mara (not her real name), a native of Nagrebcan like Palafox, recalls growing up seeing long and short firearms. She was only 6 when she saw for the first time her father and older brothers carry with them long firearms to their farm or a nearby forest where they gathered firewood.
But Mara said these never terrified her.
People in the village are also accustomed to the sound of gunshots. And no one talks when questioned by police investigators about the killers in their midst.
In Nagrebacan and elsewhere in Badoc, the townfolk are known to be tigasin or strong-willed.
In recent years, Badoc has turned into an “area of concern” for the PNP because of the proliferation of loose firearms and with rising crime incidence. It is also the entry point of illegal drugs by land, the Philippine Drug and Enforcement Agency reported in a recent peace and order council meeting held at the provincial capitol.
Edmund Tadena Sr., village chairman of Nagrebcan, admitted that his village was one of the “hot areas” monitored by PNP in previous local elections because of intense rivalry among politicians.
But he said peace and order reign in his village, which, he insisted, is home to hardworking tobacco farmers who generate most of Nagrebcan’s income. It is certainly no haven of killers, he said.
(This story is part of the VERA Files project “Human Rights Case Watch” supported by The Asia Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development.)