By Raymond Lumagsao

Cartoon by Yanmar Barrera 

Due to the widespread outrage following the brutal caught-on-video murder of mother and  son, Sonya Gregorio, 52, and Anthony Gregorio, 25, in Tarlac on December 20, government personalities joined forces in defending the Philippine National Police (PNP) and deemed the crime involving Police Senior Master Sergeant Jonel Nuezca an isolated case. Apparently, this year alone despite restricted mobility, acts of brutality dragging a number of police ranks have been reported. Could their solidified denial still carry weights enough to earn public trust?

“The sin of Nuezca is not the sin of the entire Philippine National Police,” Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Ano said on Monday adding that policemen “place their lives on the line as frontliners in our COVID response.”

PNP Chief Police General Debold Sinas also distanced their institution from the fatal shooting assuring the public that "in no way will such incident affect the sworn duty of the 221,000 police personnel to serve and protect our people.”

In April, it can be recalled that President Rodrigo Duterte ordered police and soldiers to “shoot” residents causing “trouble” while the government imposed heightened lockdown in the attempt to contain coronavirus spread. Upon learning about Nuezca’s point-black shooting, Duterte suddenly changed tune, this time reminded his men that “actions must be in accordance with the law,” reiterating that police "tend to exhibit [their] authority even in matters not connected with police work.”

The president’s latest remark couldn’t be any more flawed backing with the fact that on top of his order to shoot quarantine violators to death, his clear, consistent, and often publicly delivered order to execute drug offenders as part of the bloody war on drugs has been widely condemned across the globe that recently led to the prosecutor’s finding of probable cause for crime against humanity suit filed before the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Duterte’s vocal ‘killing’ advocacy may have contributed to an unrelenting culture that potentially architects police officers to act like Nuezca

In an interview on ANC on Wednesday, PNP Spokesman Police Brig. Gen. Ildebrandi Usana revealed that out 221,000 armed officers, less than 10% contributes to some 16,800 erring police who have committed violations in the past and that the PNP had already dismissed some 4,800 who were facing various administrative cases. Nuezca’s past records apparently showed that despite facing six combined administrative and criminal cases, the police officer has not been demoted at least. Following his crime commitment, there is no way all 16,800 erring officials should carry guns while their integrity is in dispute, to note that the president permitted police to carry firearms even off their police service. 

While Duterte has unapologetically encouraged police to kill when the situation necessitates, the dilemma whether to follow the president’s command or uphold Constitutional provisions is put on the shoulders of the PNP as an enforcement body. The grave weight of Duterte’s perennial disregard to human rights however, is not a revelation anymore. In 2017, a single night drug operation in Bulacan that easily claimed 32 lives of “nanlaban” drug offenders will remain one of the horrifying headlines to date amid the intensified imposition of Oplan Tokhang and Oplan Double Barrel. The incident later led to an investigation of the Amnesty International whose findings dubbed Province of Bulacan as country’s bloodiest field in 2019. With these bloodthirsty machineries, the culture of impunity has been highly-encouraged, if not completely normalized. The institution that is expected to uphold human rights was found to have sided the president whose decision-making supposedly served the interest of the disenfranchised.

What does police’s non-cooperation to the investigations of CHR say to their probity?

Rejecting PNP, Commission on Human Rights (CHR) denounced the claims that Tarlac slay was not an isolated case. Commissioner Karen Dumpit on Tuesday, slammed PNP for disassociating Nuezca’s brutality to the strings of killings that dragged police in the past. Dumpit expressed disappointment over institution’s refusal to cooperate whenever there are police operations that committed lapses.

PNP may have had enough with the amount of condemnation the CHR has expressed in the past following staggered killings since Duterte took power, it is still not upon their discretion to refuse investigations as protecting lives their primary role to deliver. If vilifying CHR an immediate response rather than challenging the entire system that is dominantly questioned, there must be a ray of light that is somehow lurking-the interest to address the deeply-rooted issue. It is indeed alarming that there is a little to none earnest effort from PNP to at least acknowledge that something may have plagued the institution. 

Undiagnosed disease is a traitor, once worsened, it becomes secretly fatal.

Series of police violence and schemed killings was reported in 2020 alone, how can Nuezca’s case suddenly become a remote one?

Among most debated case was committed on April 21. Cpl. Winston Ragos, a former soldier was shot dead by Police Master Sergeant Daniel Florendo, Jr. in Quezon City. Florendo was among the police manning the checkpoint along Maligaya Drive in barangay Pasong Putik when Ragos approached and shouted at them. Despite pleading from the people nearby and those who knew Ragos’s mental health condition, Florendo still shot him claiming that the latter was about to pull out a gun from his sling bag. Ragos was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder following his assignment in Marawi City.

On June 26, members of the LGBTQIA+ commemorating the Pride month in a protest in Mendiola were violently dispersed by the police. At least 20 of them were arrested. Barely a month later, Fabel Pineda, 15 years old, was killed in Ilocos Sur after filing a complaint against a policeman in their town. The teenager and her cousin were arrested by the police allegedly for violating the curfew. According to the report, both were drunk and the police took advantage of the two girls’ condition. Two police officers were identified as suspects in the murder namely Police Sergeants Randy Ramos and Marawi Torda who were assigned at the San Juan Municipal Police Station, Ilocos Sur.

On October 16, the police hijacked the burial of River Emmanuelle, daughter of political prisoner Reina Mae Nasino. The police commanded the driver of the hearse to quickly depart from the funeral parlor leaving behind her family and supporters. Policemen and jail guards also attempted to whisk Nasino away while visiting her daughter’s wake.

In the following month, two members of the Cordillera Police Office’s drug enforcement unit were tagged as suspects in the beheading of a 25-year-old man in Benguet province. Reports said that the victim was allegedly abducted on Nov. 11. The next day his body was found with a black shirt wrapped around his neck in Tublay, Benguet. The Baguio police said there is evidence that the two policemen are involved in the kidnapping and are responsible for the killing. 

The behavior of police can be easily viewed as systemic for the reason that even the most inhuman crime, they are actually capable to plot in different opportunities. The confidence of these government people to confine PNP as an institution that is trying without recognizing there may be internal atrocity, is beyond irresponsible and violence-enabling. Truth is, there is no such institution that is unerring.  However, accountability does honor none of these superficial reasoning.