“My father is a policeman!” were the exact words of a child moments before a shocking crime transpired. A transgression involving her father, Jonel Nuezca, who shot and killed two civilians in broad daylight in Paniqui, Tarlac. Nuezca executed 52-year-old Sonya Rufino Gregorio and her 25-year-old son, Frank Anthony Rufino Gregorio over a dispute of what could have been settled without resulting in bloodshed.
Videos of the said incident circulated in various social media platforms, igniting anger among the Filipino people. It raised contentions and questions among the masses; how did the police, who took an oath to serve and protect, become the primary perpetrators of such a grisly crime?
“The sin of Nuezca is not the sin of the entire Philippine National Police (PNP).” says Eduardo Año, Secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG). He referred to Nuezca’s case as an “isolated incident” and therefore has nothing to do with the acts of other PNP personnel. However, progressive organizations were quick to dismiss this statement stating that police brutality has long been part of the country’s system.
Karapatan Secretary General, Cristina Palabay, said that the deaths of Sonya and Frank Gregorio is a “dangerous and chilling effect of impunity.” She added that it is driven by the “kill-kill-kill” policy of Duterte that is embedded in his orders all the while encouraging state-sponsored attacks.
The Gregorios are not the only victims who suffered at the hands of the so-called “protectors” of the people; the culture of violence and impunity manifests not just in this particular case but in the thousands of human rights violations committed by the police.
According to the Youth Movement Against Tyranny Laguna, since 2016, drug war deaths have already reached 30,000 and that the count continues to increase. However, records coming from the official tally of the government which was discovered to be underreported, suggests otherwise.
From July 1, 2016 to July 31, 2020, the total number of drug suspects killed based on the data of #RealNumbersPH reached 5,810. The #RealNumbersPH project provides the only available data the public can access with regards to drug operations. It is headed by the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) in coordination with the PNP and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).
Based on the records of the PNP, there were 7,884 drug suspects killed from July 1, 2016 to August 31, 2020. In comparison with the data from #RealNumbersPH, with just a one month difference in the recording period, there exists a large gap of 2,000 killings. The data suggests that almost 2,000 cases were not included in the official records released by #RealNumbersPH.
For the counts of operations conducted, #RealNumbersPH tallied 173,348 while PNP tallied 223,608. Both records were within the same period from July 1, 2016 to July 31, 2020. In terms of arrests, #RealNumbersPH counted 251,889 arrests and PNP recorded 345,708. Still manifesting inconsistent data from both sources.
Even if the latest data coming from #RealNumbersPH would be used to compare with PNP’s July 1, 2016 to July 31, 2020 records, there is still a large discrepancy. From July 1, 2016 to October 31, 2020, the latest data showed 5,942 drug suspects killed, 183,525 operations, and 266,126 arrests. This count is still significantly lower than that of PNP’s records.
When records do not match up, it is difficult to identify which one’s accurate and credible. It also leaves us to question the actual number of lives that were taken and that there may be a possibility that the current count may only be a small portion of the actual number of killings.
According to Human Rights Watch—an international non-governmental organization—in their analysis of the government’s records, 103 people were killed by the police in drug war operations from December 2019 to March 2020. It then worsened during the pandemic wherein there was a 50% increase amounting to 155 deaths from April to July, 2020.
Keep in mind that these numbers only cover the people killed in operations of the war on drugs.
Additionally, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Protection Cluster, in an interview with the Perspective, said that for the year 2020, there were 261 cases of human rights violations and from these cases, there were a total of 456 victims. CHR also added that there are an estimated 1,889 extrajudicial deaths from police drug operations allegedly deemed as legitimate.
“Iilan sa mga kaso ng human rights violations na sangkot ang mga pulis ay napatawan na ng mga karampatang parusa,” CHR says. According to them, not all cases lead to a successful litigation. They added that the common reasons as to why cases are dismissed is due to lack of witnesses and weak evidence.
CHR told Perspective that the majority of the police who commit human rights violations do not get apprehended because victims opt not to file charges. This is due to fear and acknowledgment that our country’s justice system is flawed. The victims mentioned that they would rather choose to work than spend their time in court or to pay for lawyers they can’t even afford.
Hundreds and thousands of lives were taken. Although treated as a mere body count, these individuals are not statistics. They were once warm bodies who suffered and lost their lives at the hands of the PNP. These people have families waiting for them to come home, they have friends praying for their safety.
It is an utter disgrace and disservice because it seems like our lives depend on armed men designated to protect our rights and interests in the first place.
2020 in checkmate
On June 26, the Pride 20 were illegally detained during a peaceful Pride Month demonstration in Morayta, Manila. The 20 protesters were brought to the Manila Police District Headquarters and were imprisoned despite the fact that the police were unable to state their violations. Afterwards, they were charged with “disobedience of person in authority” in relation with the Public Health Concern Act or R.A. 11332, even after they asserted that they practiced COVID-19 protocols during the protest.
Similar cases happened in June 5’s incident involving the Cebu 8 and the Cabuyao 11 on July 6 where activists and a by-stander were arrested during a protest against the Anti-Terrorism Act. Along with these cases is the Piston 6 where six jeepney drivers were arrested while protesting for the resume of jeepney operations. 21 residents from Sitio San Roque, while only demanding aid from the government, were also illegally arrested.
Winston Ragos, a mentally-ill ex-soldier, was shot twice and was killed on April 21 in Barangay Pasong Putik, Quezon City by Police Master Sergeant Daniel Florendo Jr. This occurred after a confrontation regarding a “possible quarantine violation” committed by Ragos. The police explained that they shot Ragos because he was about to pull a gun from his sling bag but according to Ragos’ mother, her son was unarmed. It was later on confirmed that Florendo and other officers planted the evidence.
Planting of evidence is also common in police related incidents. Aside from Ragos’ case, according to a report on June 4 by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN OHCHR), in order to support the “nanlaban” narratives of the police whenever they kill suspects in the drug war operations, they would plant guns as evidence to support their claims. There were instances wherein the same guns were used and recovered across different cases.
National chairperson of Anakpawis party-list and National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant Randall “Randy” Echanis and his neighbor Louie Tagapia were found dead on August 10 in an apartment in Novaliches, Quezon. CHR investigators concluded that Echanis was tortured to death based on his wounds. According to Randy’s wife, Erlinda Echanis, and some relatives who brought his remains to a funeral home, La Loma Police Station of the Quezon City Police District (QCPD) forcibly retrieved Randy’s remains claiming that the body belongs to a certain Manuel Santiago. (Read: A week of terror: Human rights groups slam state attacks on activists, civilians)
Recently, on December 2, Amanda Echanis, a peasant organizer and also the daughter of Randy Echanis, was arrested in Baggao, Cagayan for illegal possession of firearms and explosives in which Anakpawis asserted that evidence was planted. It is said that she was among those who were merely conducting relief ops in Cagayan at the time of her arrest. Amanda was detained in Camp Adduro in Tuguegarao along with her 1-month-old baby.
Harjan Lagman, 25-year-old Baguio city resident, was found decapitated in Tublay, Benguet. He was abducted on November 11 and his lifeless body was found the day after. The suspects were confirmed to be two police officers under PNP Cordillera’s Regional Drug Enforcement Unit (RDEU). Regional Director Police Brigadier General R’Win Pagkalinawan referred to this case as an “isolated incident”. But shortly after the incident, the RDEU was disbanded.
Fabel Pineda, a 15-year-old girl, was killed on July 4 after she filed a molestation complaint at the Cabugao police station against two policemen. The police chief said that Pineda, her uncle, and her cousin were riding a motorcycle on their way home when they were chased and bumped by another motorcycle with riders wearing helmets and face masks. The riders then shot Pineda 5 times before they fled the scene leaving her uncle and cousin unharmed.
These incidents show that the human rights violations committed by police forces are not limited to one sector. From youth activists, to the urban poor, all the way to the working class and innocent civilians, anyone can be a victim of police harassment.
Where the player goes, the pawns follow
Senator Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, former PNP chief, was asked in ANC’s “Headstart” if he believes that there exists a culture of impunity inside the PNP. He answered, “No. Ginagamit lang yan ng critics na gustong sirain ang gobyerno natin.” He mentioned that police officers are not commanded to kill, not even by the president and that the crime of Nuezca should not reflect the whole police organization.
Contrary to these claims, killing without due process has been promoted by Duterte since he assumed office. In his nationally televised speech in celebration of his presidential victory, he urged the public to help him in battling his “war against crime”. He encouraged the people with guns to shoot and kill drug dealers who resist arrest and he said that those who will help him will be rewarded.
“Please feel free to call us, the police, or do it yourself if you have the gun — you have my support,” he said.
During the 250th Presidential Airlift Wing (PAW) anniversary last September 17, 2016, Duterte also stated that he will protect law enforcers saying, “I will protect you. I will not allow one policeman or one military to go to jail.”
Recently, Police Captain Ariel Buraga was under fire for a Facebook post about the killings of Sonya and Frank Gregorio saying, “Kahit puti na ang buhok o ubanin na tayo, eh matuto tayong rumespeto sa ating mga kapulisan. Mahirap kalaban ang pagtitimpi at pagpapasensya.”
Amnesty International’s research team—an international non-government organization focused on human rights—interviewed a police officer based in Metro Manila under the drugs crime unit. In the interview, they learned that there were financial incentives for officers who are able to kill individuals allegedly involved with drugs.
Moreover, Duterte appointed Debold Sinas, former regional director of the Central Visayas police office, as the chief of PNP on November 9, 2020 regardless of his dark history of human rights violations. The Commission on Human Rights in Central Visayas (CHR-7) chief investigator Leo Villarino said that when Sinas was regional chief, the killings in Negros worsened and investigations produced no results. Among those killed included activists, peasants, labor leaders, and lawyers. It is both disturbing and horrifying that Sinas is involved with these crimes, that the chief of the national police himself is a perpetrator of such gruesome acts.
In retrospect, the Gregorios’ case garnered attention and caused an uproar among citizens because of the brutal video captured by one of the individuals present at the scene. The video exposed police brutality in the country and instigated national clamor. What’s alarming is that these crimes were filmed and recorded. But what about the cases not captured on camera or on paper? What happens to the victims then?
Duterte’s war on drugs is supported and strengthened by its primary pillars, impunity and fascism. In an attempt to achieve his end goals, regardless of means, he utilizes the police and military forces and in exchange, these state machineries are rewarded for their obedience and loyalty to the state.
The police are tasked to save lives, not take it; they should be serving the masses, and not the few powerful. With all the events that took place not just in the year 2020 but also in the preceding years, an authoritarian rule backed by repressive policies executed by the armed forces will only strengthen each day. When justice is bent by the very individuals directed to uphold it, rage among the masses is valid.
But anger exists only for a brief period of time. When anger fades, fear sets in. Then a question lingers in our minds. What do we do when the shields that were supposed to protect us are now the same weapons used against us? [P]
Photo by Dianne Sanchez
Layout by Michael Ian Bartido