Ex-cop’s road rage costs him SC job; QCPD head quits
MANILA, Philippines — After drawing flak for organizing an “inappropriate” press briefing for road rage suspect Wilfredo Gonzales, Quezon City Police District (QCPD) Brig. Gen. Nicolas Torre III submitted on Wednesday his courtesy resignation to Philippine National Police chief Gen. Benjamin Acorda Jr.
Hours later, the Supreme Court announced the dismissal of Gonzales as a co-terminus employee of one of its associate justices.
A statement from the high court’s Public Information Office confirmed that Gonzales, a dismissed Quezon City policeman, was assigned to the Office of Associate Justice Ricardo Rosario who fired him upon learning of his involvement in the Aug. 8 road rage incident.
“Justice Rosario does not condone any form of violence or abusive behavior,” said Wilhelmina Aileen Mayuga, Rosario’s judicial staff head.
Based on the court’s statement, Gonzales was fired on Aug. 27, the same day Torre presented him to the media at the QCPD headquarters in Camp Karingal. During the press briefing where they sat beside each other, Gonzales aired his side on the viral video that showed him hitting a cyclist on the head and then cocking a gun.
In an interview with INQUIRER.net, Torre said his resignation would take effect today, Aug. 31, adding that he wanted to spare the PNP “from any issue.”
Before submitting his resignation, he stressed in a radio interview that he “really deeply [regretted]” holding the press briefing.
“I apologize to the Filipino people for those actions because those are decisions made in a very short span of time,” Torre said. “In hindsight, we have 20/20 vision. I could have done it better with the same result, but it already happened.”
Later in the day, he appeared before the House public order and safety panel which took up the Aug. 8 incident. During the nine-hour hearing, he admitted making a mistake by holding the press briefing “without the other party present.”
“I should not have allowed Gonzales to join me in the press conference, considering that the other party was not present and Gonzales was saying that they came to an agreement. It was really one-sided, considering that it was only him speaking. I should have exerted effort to locate the other person,” Torre said.
He submitted to the House panel a copy of the video taken by a surveillance camera which showed the road rage incident that happened near Welcome Rotunda, in addition to five videos from five surveillance cameras inside the Galas police station, where Gonzales and the cyclist were brought for investigation.
“I want to aid them in finding out and ferreting out the truth in this matter. These are footage taken from five [closed-circuit TV] cameras, [taken from] five angles which I do hope will help us in ferreting out the truth,” Torre said.
He further told the committee members that he had personally sought the revocation of the road rage suspect’s firearms licenses and permit to carry outside of residence.
“What [Gonzales] did was a blatant violation of the requirement and conditions for gun holders, that the gun will only be used for legal purposes. I do not see any ground for him to draw his firearm in that situation. Based on the video, I can say that he is really out of line,” Torre said.
In an interview on Tuesday, the police official had denied giving Gonzales special treatment, telling reporters: “I don’t want to be quoted as arrogant, but he is way below my salary grade.”
Saying there was nothing the road rage suspect could offer that would make him put at risk his reputation and years of service, Torre clarified that he and the former policeman did not know each other before the press conference.
For PNP chief to decide
Acorda, meanwhile, said that he has yet to act on Torre’s resignation, adding that he would review and decide on the matter together with Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos and Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte.
The PNP chief added that he had also directed the Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management to look into possible lapses committed as well as charges to be filed against some police personnel over the press briefing.
“It’s not good that there were insinuations that the police are protecting these kinds of people. We do not tolerate or condone these kinds of actions of our personnel,” Acorda said.
Still, he welcomed Torre’s decision to resign. “That’s what we need from the police — delicadeza [sense of propriety]. Things will eventually come out after the investigation as to what the truth is because he (Torre) explained to me his side, and to some extent, there is merit in what he says, but of course, I respect his decision,” Acorda said.
Belmonte also commended Torre for stepping down from his post, saying “his willingness to take ownership of the situation [was] commendable.”
Earlier, she said that instead of holding an “inappropriate” press conference, the police should have arrested Gonzales.
“It seemed the QCPD was agreeing with Gonzales, like it was telling him, ‘Go ahead and give your side.’ It felt strange to me. There was something wrong in it in my view,” she added.
Belmonte assured the public that the city government, through its legal department and People’s Law Enforcement Board (PLEB), would continue “to pursue a fair and unbiased investigation [of] the matter… to ascertain the truth in pursuit of justice and accountability.”
“At the same time, we trust that the QCPD and PNP leadership, as well as other offices and agencies having jurisdiction over this incident, will undertake the required course of action on the matter as they deem just and proper,” she said.
Summoned to hearing
Rafael Vicente Calinisan, the Quezon City PLEB executive officer, said that members of the QCPD’s Galas station, which was in charge of the road rage case, had been summoned to a hearing on Aug. 31 over allegations of a possible cover-up.
Lt. Col. Jake Barila, the Galas police station commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Jonar Jorta, chief investigator and desk officer, would be asked to explain the circumstances behind the quick amicable settlement reached between Gonzales and the cyclist. Torre could also be invited for questioning.
Calinisan said the PLEB—which has the power to hear and decide citizen’s complaints against erring police officers—may resolve the issue within 60 days following the formal filing of a complaint.
Alarm and scandal
The Galas police on Tuesday filed a complaint for alarm and scandal against Gonzales in the Quezon City Prosecutor’s Office. The offense is punishable by a jail term ranging from a day to 30 days, or a fine not exceeding P40,000.
The QCPD and the Quezon City government, however, were also studying pursuing additional criminal charges against Gonzales whose firearms licenses and registration and permit to carry firearms outside his residence had been revoked by the PNP Firearms and Explosives Office (FEO).
The FEO also confiscated his three .45-cal. handguns and a 9-mm pistol while the Land Transportation Office suspended his driving license for 90 days, pending a hearing.
As a member of the QCPD, Gonzales was demoted several times and left the service in 2016 upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 56. The next year, the PNP ordered his dismissal over a grave misconduct administrative case based on a gun-toting incident in 2006. His dismissal took effect in 2018 after his motion for reconsideration was denied, leading to the forfeiture of his benefits retroactively.
The cyclist, identified only as “AB,” said in a statement to ABS-CBN News that he and his family were no longer interested in pursuing criminal charges against Gonzales. He also denied that money or threats led to their decision and asked the public to respect it.