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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Shoot first, ask questions later

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What is very clear now is that these series of unfortunate incidents should not happen again

Sometime in July 1982, former vice president Emmanuel Pelaez was going home to his home in Quezon City when two carloads of armed men blocked his car and fired, killing the driver.

Pelaez survived and was rushed to the hospital.

It was there that he asked Brig. Gen. Tomas Karingal, Quezon City police chief at that time:

“What is happening to our country, General?” referring to the apparent deterioration of the rule of law and the rash of unsolved killings. Ironically, the police general himself would be targeted by assassins years later.

“What is happening to our country, General” may well be asked by the citizenry today, more than three decades later, amid the recent series of killings and violent confrontations between police and ordinary people who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

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In the latest incident, a dismissed former policeman was caught on video pulling out a firearm and cocking it while assaulting a cyclist during a road altercation in Quezon City.

The widely circulated video generated public outrage after the gun-toting ex-cop said the victim of the road rage had agreed not to press charges.

But a prominent lawyer-cyclist who later learned what really happened said the victim had been forced to agree to settle the case under duress at the police station.

The Quezon City police chief later submitted his resignation after allowing the dismissed police officer to hold a press conference right at the police office.

A few days earlier, 15-year-old John Francis Ompad was killed after being “accidentally” hit by police in Rodriguez town in Rizal province who were shooting at his 19-year-old brother, who supposedly tried to flee on a motorbike after being flagged down by a law enforcer in plainclothes accompanied by a civilian.

On August 2, six police officers from Navotas City police substation 4 responded to a shooting incident.

A suspect in the shooting was caught but another escaped.

Based on a tip, the second suspect was reported to be hiding in a boat along with the teenager, 17 year-old Jemboy Baltazar.

The teenager “suddenly leaped into the water,” police said.

One of the police officers fired shots into the water, with the teenager sustaining an undetermined number of gunshot wounds.

The six police officers admitted their mistake but claimed they did not intend to kill him.

All six were disarmed the day after the incident and placed under restrictive custody at the Northern Police District headquarters in Caloocan City.

They have already undergone inquest proceedings for homicide before the Navotas prosecutor’s office.

The team leaders in charge of the operation were transferred to the Northern Police District headquarters and face administrative charges for command responsibility.

“The act of firing the shots exhibited lapses in proper judgment,” the police said.

The Navotas police chief was later sacked from his post for his alleged failure to oversee the operation that killed Baltazar.

“He failed to supervise the conduct of police operation and corresponding investigation. Hence, he is liable under the doctrine of command responsibility,” according to the NCRPO.

The human rights group Karapatan called the incident a “cold-blooded murder” and said cops should exercise due diligence in police operations.

The Gabriela Women’s Party also condemned the shooting and highlighted the “culture of impunity” that persists within the country’s law enforcement agencies.

Following the two killings, the Commission on Human Rights has recommended the entire PNP should undergo retraining on human rights.

“The retraining should not be focused on a specific police station, but the entire police force, CHR chairperson Richard Palpal-latoc said.

He also pointed out if only the police would follow their own operating procedures, human rights violations would be prevented.

If the deaths of innocent civilians indicate a serious lapse in judgment by PNP personnel, then they will have to face the legal consequences.

They cannot be rash in their actions and shoot first before asking questions.

This should serve as a wake-up call to the police their response to particular crime situations should be carefully considered to avoid unnecessary and excessive use of force.

The PNP should not tolerate misconduct and clear violation of operational procedures by anyone in the organization.

It should now conduct refresher courses and continuing education for police personnel so they will learn new skills and adapt to innovative approaches in community policing, rather than simply resorting to point-and-shoot at every opportunity when facing crime situations.

What is very clear now is that these series of unfortunate incidents should not happen again.

The PNP should give clear assurances that those responsible shall be held to account by the proper investigative and judicial bodies.

At the same time, the institution should see to it that those assigned to ground operations are properly briefed on established rules of engagement.


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