Features Spotlight

Sack the police: Abusing the boundaries of law enforcement

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the concoction of selective justice and police brutality here in the Philippines.

By Gabriel Dolot

“Tama na po. May test pa ako bukas.” Those were Kian Delos Santos’ plea, a victim of Duterte’s bloody war on drugs before he was murdered by the Caloocan City police.

“I can’t breathe,” was George Floyd’s last words, spoken while police officer Derek Chauvin knee pressed his neck; Police forces who accompanied Chauvin stood by and did nothing as Floyd struggled for air to breathe. Floyd, by that time, was the latest victim of systematic racism and police violence in America.

Delos Santos and Floyd were two very different people from two distant parts of the world yet fall under the same systematic abuse from those whose duties are supposed to serve and protect. 

Police brutality has had a long history in the United States where racism is rampant in which mostly African-Americans are targeted even until today.

From a more local perspective, dark chapters in Philippine history emboldened police abuse such as the events that unfolded during Marcos’ martial rule where, according to the United Nations (UN), had one of the worst cases of human rights violations caused by the Philippine Constabulary. 

PO1 Jeremias Pereda, PO1 Jerwin Cruz, and PO3 Arnel Oares (L-R) are guilty of murder for the killing of Kian delos Santos. Photo by Leanne Jazul/Rappler

In 2016, the Duterte administration started its infamous war on drugs. According to  the Commission of Human Rights, more than 27,000 lives were claimed in which the majority were “alleged” drug users and pushers.

Throughout the campaign, the narrative of “nanlaban” (fought back) was used by police forces over and over. However, in a recent report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN OHCHR), documents showed that the guns found by the police from the victims had the same serial number even though these guns were found from different victims in different locations.

This highly suggests that the guns could have been planted by the police in order to prove their narrative. 

In 2019, the Hong Kong protests erupted when the Fugitive Offenders Amendment Bill was introduced. The bill, if passed, will allow extradition to mainland China. Critics feared this might be used against those who express their dissent against the Chinese government.

Protests in Hong Kong last year. Photo by Getty Images

As more and more people dissented, more encounters between the protesters and the police occurred. Violent dispersals and attacks against the people were documented. After many brutal clashes, the local press revealed documents that exposed the Hong Kong police force’s violations of their own guidelines.

Police brutality during the Hong Kong protests was rampant, but authorities have cleared these acts of violence by claiming that the “violent” and “unlawful” protests justify their actions.

Along with the protesters, there have been records of bystanders and journalists covering the protest being attacked by the police. Unjust violence was then legitimized by the state.

With the ongoing pandemic, governments in these countries have been challenged in addressing health and economic obstacles. China has had its second wave of COVID-19 infections, where most recent cases in the last week of June ranged from 3 to 21 cases per day.

Though China has limited its transmission within, epidemiologists say that Chinese officials were slow to report these cases and limited its containment which was a critical flaw according to Howard Markel, a public-health researcher at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Meanwhile, the United States is leading worldwide with 2.69 million confirmed cases as of July 1. Previously the U.S. has had issues with “anti-lock down” protests, states reopening, and misinformation coming from its leaders which may have had an effect on their response.

Not only that, but the current struggle of people of color against law enforcers in the US also makes it difficult for its citizens to stay put and be quiet about it despite the pandemic.

The pandemic has also tested the Philippine government’s capability to keep things in order, and with this administration’s militarized pursuit in addressing the pandemic, frequent violent encounters with law enforcers have occurred since the beginning of the lockdown.

Winston Ragos’ death signalled the growing distrust between the military and police.

One incident of police brutality involved Winston Ragos, a retired military man suffering from trauma and Schizophrenia was shot dead because he was allegedly violating quarantine protocols. The police claimed that he had a gun which they revealed during investigation, however, it was later concluded that the gun was planted. 

Numerous cases of police abuse have surfaced due to the challenges the pandemic has brought. “Sex for pass” is a modus in which police exploit women including but not limited to sex workers and former sex trafficking victims, in exchange for a quarantine pass, food, supplies, etc.

These people have had previous encounters with their abusers and only worsened due to the desperation the pandemic has brought upon them. Other instances where police brutality was recorded are the beating of a street vendor by a barangay tanod at Panay Ave. in barangay South Triangle, Quezon City and the attempted arrest of a Manila Today intern during the Pride Protest. 

Last May 25, George Floyd, a 46-year old African-American was killed by a police officer for the alleged use of a counterfeit bill. Floyd was pinned down with the officer’s knee on his neck.

Teen who filmed George Floyd video is getting therapy - New York ...
George Floyd’s last gasps at the knee of a police officer. Growing clamor for his justice among the African-American communities in the United States sparked the weeks-long  #BlackLivesMatter protests.

This event sparked the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement which calls to abolish the culture of racism by the police. According to the  National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a civil rights organization in the United States, African Americans are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of whites, the imprisonment rate for African American women is twice that of white women.

Even though African Americans and Hispanics constitute only 32% of the U.S. population, African-Americans and Hispanics still comprise the 56% incarcerated population. Protests all over the country advocating the BLM movement, experienced first hand the police brutality. It has come to a point where police arrest peaceful protesters, shoot bystanders with rubber bullets and even attack the press.

Considered as strongmen, their leadership style may create hostility among their constituents, especially with their use of force through law enforcers in promoting their agenda.

Countries aforementioned have different cultures and customs but have leaders who seem to have read the same authoritarian playbook. The type of leadership they enact promotes a culture of impunity, especially among the police whose bloody operations remain unchecked.

In the context of the U.S. alone, American lawyer and social justice activist Bryan Steveson described police brutality as “simply the latest manifestation of a 400-year-old problem.”

This culture of impunity emboldens law enforcers who take the law into their own hands and protects government officials who run away from their responsibility. In the end, it is the citizens who pay the price of impunity.

However, the incidence of racism perpetuates especially when the head of state is doing it. Donald Trump has had a long history with racism even though he constantly denies it; his tweets and public addresses bearing racial slurs and expressions can attest to that.

In the Philippines and Hong Kong, their leaders instill fear and violence as part of their rule. Duterte once said in an interview with Rappler CEO Maria Ressa that “violence is his strength” and “violence is necessary because there is a war,” referring to his war on drugs.

Could the Philippine Daily Inquirer be charged for inciting ...
The front page of a newspaper after Duterte’s hitler remark.

He also previously compared himself to Hitler, likening his war on drugs with the former dictator’s crackdown on the Jews. Meanwhile, China, under Xi Jin Ping’s leadership has caused a battle of sovereignty against other Asian countries near the South China sea including the Philippines.

The Chinese coast guard has even been reported harassing Filipino fishermen in Philippine waters.

Selective justice has also been a recurring theme, at least, in the U.S. and the Philippines. 100 days into the Covid-19 pandemic, the police and LGUs in the Philippines have been arresting alleged quarantine violators yet seem to refuse to take action against government officials who have clearly committed the same violations.

Senator Koko Pimentel who was COVID-19 positive breached quarantine protocols while inside a hospital.  National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) Chief PBgen. Debold Sinas, is known for his notorious “mañanita” and was even defended by the president. 

PCOO Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson held a mass gathering for OFWs in Batangas, but not yet been held accountable. In the US, “anti-quarantine” protests held by armed citizens were blatantly ignored by the administration yet allowed the violent dispersal and arrests of the BLM movement.

This culture of impunity emboldens law enforcers who take the law into their own hands and protects government officials who run away from their responsibility. In the end, it is the citizens who pay the price of impunity.

Those who express their dissent against these atrocities are the ones being persecuted.

Filipino Teacher Faces Charges over Tweet Calling for Duterte Killing
Ronnel Mas, a high school teacher from Olongapo, was humiliated in public after posting an incredulous threat to kill Duterte in the middle of the pandemic.

With the Anti-Terrorism Law passed, concerns about its unconstitutionality, vague definition of terrorism, and abuse-prone provisions are raised, as the current situation reflects the rampant power-tripping of the administration and police force.

According to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet during the 44th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday, the Terror law’s vagueness opens the state for abuse of power. “[the Anti-Terrorism Law] heightens our concerns about the blurring of important distinctions between criticism, criminality, and terrorism,” Bachelet added.

The said law may open doors for more cases of police brutality and unlawful arrests due to its provision where the police can arrest a person “suspected” of terrorism even without a warrant.

And according to our constitution, a warrantless arrest is only allowed if the person is In flagrante delicto or “caught in the act.”

According to Atty. Ray Paolo J. Santiago, Executive Director, Ateneo Human Rights Center,“ context is important. I want to emphasize that we have to minimize discretion that would be given to law enforcers on arresting people based on what they think or who they think are suspected of terrorist activities.

Whether that person is actually a terrorist or not it would be determined by the judge.”

With the constant red-tagging in our country by law enforcers and the institution itself, it is dangerous to give too much discretion on those implementing the law especially if the law has a vague definition of terrorism and has very few safeguards and a longer detention period compared to the Human Security act of 2007.

Abuse by the police may occur within the 14 to 24 days of detention and this provision also states that the person can be detained even without charges filed against them.

Authors and sponsors of the Anti-Terror Act of 2020 argue that the law does not undermine the laws of other countries and would not be used against law-abiding citizens yet according to Bachelet, 248 human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, and trade unionists have been killed from 2015 to 2019.

And during this administration, human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, trade unionists, and whoever shows dissent against the government have been the target of non-stop red-tagging by state forces.

With the long history of police abuse in the Philippines, it is undoubtedly that we are once again entering into another dark chapter if President Duterte wields this law against dissent and opposition— a huge blow to the efforts and democratic principles long held by the Filipino masses who fought against tyranny and fascism. [P]

4 comments on “Sack the police: Abusing the boundaries of law enforcement

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