There is no question that many Filipinos are utterly disgusted with another killing of unarmed civilians, carried out by a cop full of hubris. Two innocent lives lost yet again due to the grotesque selfishness of an angered policeman is too much. It is clear that policeman Jonel Nuezca broke all established conventions of how these so-called “law enforcers” should act and dispose of their duty. Nuezca is now facing a lifetime in jail, a slurry of administrative and criminal cases, aside from the possibility of him rotting in hell.
But it is worth repeating that this latest incident is on top of other shootings that have been carried out by the police, such as the case of former soldier Winston Ragos. Scores of activists, journalists and rural folk have been rounded up by the policemen with trumped-up charges and planted explosives. Thirty thousand people – yet to be charged of any related offense on illegal drug use – have been killed under the regime’s disastrous war on drugs. These killings have been done in murkier waters, and only a few cops have been prosecuted for the genocide that the regime has effectively carried out since 2016.
Going by the police’s mantra, we should presumably feel “safe” when they are around. In this basic surface test, the national police have failed. Many people say that they do not feel safe upon seeing elements of the law. Living near Camp Crame, yesterday’s events have been so tense, sources tell this writer that even high-ranking police officials are shell-shocked at the callousness over the deaths of Sonya and Frank Gregorio. Personally, I am averse of situations involving a lot of armed law enforcers, since they killed a teenager named Kian delos Santos in 2017. He was to take a test, but was instead dragged into a mud pit and shot at the back.
But who do you call, the famous graffiti says, when the police murders? Since Duterte won in 2016, the police have amassed incredible power in Filipino society. Suddenly, their salaries have increased. New firearms were bought non-stop. Duterte would defend them ad nauseam after every controversial move. In recent times the so-called President would egg “his policemen” to continue the killings, especially when their life is in danger. I got your back, Duterte would say.
As we all know, money and power corrupts. And for an institution like the Philippine National Police, this combination has been euphoric. Let’s not forget that even before Duterte’s rise to power, the state machinery of the police and the armed forces harassing and killing its perceived “enemies” — civilians, activists, journalists, farmers and foresters alike — has been in full throttle. These operations have always been to the benefit of the people in power, or those who can afford and buy it.
But under Duterte, the whole operation has been carried over to the public view, from predominantly rural areas to the city streets, spilling blood on every curb. Now, police officers even get a pat on the back for every life lost. Those who get caught, meanwhile, would only take a slap on their wrists.
The PNP, an institution rotten to the core since time immemorial, has greatly benefitted from the culture of impunity in our times. While people entering the police force might have noble intentions, the prospect of using the people’s money for despicable atrocities negates all the idealism.
Is the police rotten only because of its current sins? No. The very concept of a select few people, enforcing laws made upon consensus, is flawed from the get-go. Giving these select few the power to ascertain which action is a crime or not, let alone giving them access to firearms to carry out this task, leads to immensely dangerous possibilities.
“We are only doing our job” is the favorite excuse policemen use, when they are caught killing suspected criminals without any power to fight back. Of course, you have specific instances when the police have no choice but to respond with fire. But this is the inherent problem with policing as we know it: everything gets reduced to a simple dichotomy of sinners and saviors. And usually, for the sake of their so-called job, the police would take great lengths, like killing people.
We can only do so much under this system of policing. Especially under the Duterte regime, where incidents such as the Paniqui shooting are easily dismissed as “isolated incidents”, we should not expect that policemen would magically turn into saints tomorrow morning. History shows that these are not isolated by any means, but are systematic in nature. These policemen have swore to “serve and protect”, but we now see that surely, this service isn’t directed towards the people; instead, it is beholden towards the powerful and the moneyed.
A radical idea, therefore, is to reallocate much of what is spent on law enforcement to social programs like education, housing, jobs, and the like. The idea of locking up people in jail to “reform” them is not going to work, lest they return to a society where there are people still being utterly disadvantaged when it comes to opportunities. Most petty crimes are always linked to social problems like poverty, joblessness, and the lack of mental health facilities, and funding should be instead put into solving these problems. Surveys across the world show that most crimes being responded to are petty ones, so why not nip the problem in its bud? With people being able to realize their full potentials, the need for policing diminishes; and there we can only see a killing-free society we are aspiring for.
Of course, there are also those heinous crimes that are a result of the vestiges of a backward-looking, oppressive society. Only an ideal society free from these shackles will wipe off these problems. We do know that the road to that ideal society is long and winding, and we should not waste time being challenged by the monstrous efforts it requires. We should take up this call, along with the growing movement to unseat the people in power who are directly responsible for the horrid intoxication of the police forces. We cannot wait while our lives are being held at the mercy of those rotten to their core. [P]
Graphics by Jermaine Valerio
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