Rights groups link Tarlac murders to ‘enabling environment’ that rewards police abuse
Human rights advocates said the killing of Sonya and Frank Anthony Gregorio by a policeman in Tarlac province was no isolated case and was part of what the advocates said was a pattern of police abuse that had been encouraged and even given incentives by an administration that had promised to protect law enforcers who pull the trigger in a distorted definition of self defense.
Phil Robertson, Asia-Pacific director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), said the shooting by MSgt. Jonel Nuezca of the Gregorio mother-and-son “underscored the impunity that prevailed in the Philippines.”
This impunity, Robertson said, takes “place in the context of an enabling environment for police violence” which President Rodrigo Duterte “himself has encouraged.”
“Countless times, Duterte has excused police misconduct and promised to let them off the hook,” Robertson said. “Sunday’s killings in Tarlac province are an inevitable result of the Philippine government’s failure to hold erring law enforcers to account.”
But Malacanang, the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) are trying to distance themselves from the murders, calling Nuezca a rare rotten egg in an otherwise disciplined police force.
The handling by the highest ranking officials of the land of Nuezca comes despite the policeman’s background—two homicide cases and multiple administrative charges—in the course of his career in the PNP.
Robertson said the Tarlac killings were proof that “many members of the Philippine police are simply out of control.”
Echoing his sentiment, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas chair Danilo Ramos said it would be “bizarre to treat Nuezca’s crime as unrelated to the PNP as a whole.”
“The gun and bullet used to kill the Gregorios were acquired using hard-earned, public taxpayer money. Moreover, the sworn duties of the PNP do not end at 5 pm or on weekends,” Ramos said.
The double shootings, caught in a now-viral video, sparked outrage online and reignited nationwide debate on the culture of impunity pervading in the PNP. Several netizens wondered aloud what would have happened had the killings not been recorded on video.
Police abuses and rights violations are well-documented under the Duterte administration.
Most have been captured in security footage or police records and the enterprising work of journalists who keep track of the drug war since Duterte launched it in 2016, the year he rose to power.
In 2020 alone, cases of abuse, called isolated by the government, had been documented to involve policemen, according to Renato Reyes, secretary general of the left-wing activist group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), which Duterte described as a communist rebel front.
These included the shooting of retired Army Cpl. Winston Ragos, who was suffering from PTSD after serving in Marawi City, at a Quezon City quarantine checkpoint. The killing was caught on video taken by neighbors of Ragos.
Last Monday (Dec. 21), the Cordillera regional police admitted that its own anti-drug officers were behind the beheading of Harjan Lagman, 25, in Benguet last November.
The cases did not include yet the unsolved killings of peace consultants Randall Echanis and Agaton Topacio in separate police raids and the arrest of Echanis’ daughter, Amanda, by Cagayan police.
Allegations of abuse also hound the arrests of seven individuals, including a female journalist, on International Human Rights Day last Dec. 10.
Those arrested accused police of irregularities in obtaining and serving search warrants, including planting evidence.
Data from the World Bank-funded World Population Review estimated that this year alone, the Philippines saw 3,451 police killings, or 322 deaths per 10 million people–the third highest in the world.
This was over 10 times more than the United States’ 28 deaths per 10 million population. The US this year saw massive nationwide protests against police shootings of Black people.
The example set by the US and other similar movements across the world should inspire people to stand up for justice.
Cristina Palabay, secretary general of the human rights group Karapatan, said it was imperative that people “assert their call to stop the killings and to end impunity and the murderous rampage of state terror and violence.”
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.