Amid the growing public uproar over the spate of killings and police abuses during operations in the administration’s war against illegal drugs, four senators want police operatives to wear body cameras in their operations.
The senators issued the call following the suspected murder of 17-year-old Kian Loyd “Ian” delos Santos at the hands of police anti-illegal drugs operatives.
The four senators are Liberal Party president Senator Francis Pangilinan and Senators Grace Poe, Richard Gordon and Sherwin Gatchalian.
Pangilinan has filed Senate Bill 1564 in order to have valuable information and objective evidence of actual events of police operations during investigations and civil or criminal litigation, including drug raids.
“It will put an end to the radically divergent accounts of these police encounters and will protect the public from police abuses and misconducts. Most importantly, it will hold police officers accountable for their actions,” said Pangilinan.
“This will also serve as an effective remedial measure to restore public trust on our law enforcement officers and protect them from wrongful accusations of abuse or crime as a result of their lawful discharge of their functions,” he said.
At present, he said, 7,080 killings of drug suspects have been recorded since the beginning of the Duterte administration’s war on drugs in July 2016. Most of these killings were justified by police officers as lawful police operations due to the alleged armed resistance of drug suspects.
He said 32 other people were killed in an overnight “drug sweep” in Bulacan on the third week of August 2017.
During the same week, 49 more died within a span of four days in a series of police operations conducted in Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas, Valenzuela, and Manila.
The most recent was Delos Santos, a Grade 11 student from Caloocan City, which had sparked public outrage.
“If not for the CCTV footage showing Kian being dragged by policemen towards an alley and other witnesses to the alleged incident, Delos Santos would have been reduced to a mere statistic and labelled as a drug suspect killed because he resisted arrest and shot at police officers,” Pangilinan said.
The senator said that while media personnel are allowed to witness police operations, none of them have so far recorded these killings during operations. There are no CCTV cameras at the scenes of these operations or if there are, these are either defective or intentionally turned off for allegedly security purposes.
“There is, thus, a lingering doubt as to what actually transpires during police operations; the worn-out narrative is that most of those who died resisted arrest or, in the usual police alibi, ‘nanlaban.’ It is therefore imperative to put in place mechanisms that will ensure transparent police operations.”
Poe, the vice-chairperson of the committee on public order and illegal drugs, said a policy requiring body-worn cameras should be put in place so that those who are conducting appropriate investigations or review of cases have indisputable evidence how the operations are carried out and the police responses to alleged resistance to arrests.
“I have recommended even then that we should equip our policemen and other law enforcers, especially those who are part of operations being conducted, with body cameras that would record their interaction with the public,” Poe said.
Senator Richard Gordon, meanwhile, said that the use of body cameras would aid the police in gathering evidence at crime scenes.
He said that in other countries that already use body cameras, it has been known to increase both police and citizen accountability. By recording police-citizen encounters, police supervisors, judges, reporters, and others can get objective evidence of what happened instead of self-serving hearsay.
“There’s a record of what actually happened despite the absence of CCTV in the area,” he added.
Body worn video (BWV), also known as body cameras and body-worn cameras, or wearable cameras is an audio, video, or photographic recording system, which is being utilized in several countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States and Denmark, to address and reduce police misconduct.
“The use of body cameras is part of a holistic approach to improve our criminal justice system,” said Gordon.
Gordon’s recommendation also included regular reporting by the police to a congressional oversight committee, strengthening the Peoples’ Law Enforcement Boards or PLEBS, the conduct of speedy investigations by the PNP’s Internal Affairs Service “para hindi na sila IWAS instead na IAS,” and the creation of police courts, among others.
Senator Win Gatchalian, who pointed to the CCTV footage as potentially damning evidence against the police officers involved in Delos Santos’ killing, said that recording video evidence of all anti-illegal drugs operations would be a powerful tool to ensure transparency and accountability in the execution of the government’s drug war.
“Footage collected from police body cams would provide concrete evidence to hold police scalawags administratively and criminally liable for violating their oath to serve and protect the people,” Gatchalian said..
To ensure strict compliance with the body cam policy, he said law enforcement personnel who engage in a raid, buy-bust operation, or other anti-illegal drugs operation without recording the required video footage will be summarily suspended pending investigation.
“Should the unrecorded operation result in the injury or death of a drug personality or any other individual, the erring policeman will be automatically dismissed from service and recommended for criminal prosecution.”
Gatchalian also called on Police Director-General Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa and other officials tasked to oversee the government’s war on drugs to support the use of body cameras, explaining that body cam footage could help restore public confidence in the integrity of the Philippine National Police and the legitimacy of its anti-illegal drugs operations.
“The video footage will separate the decent, law-abiding policemen from the scalawags. Policemen wrongly accused of abuses during police raids will be able to use the video evidence to clear their names, while the scalawags will be thrown in jail for their crimes,” he said.
The PNP Chief has aired his support on the use of body cam, saying “it would also be beneficial on our part, as you’ve said, whenever there are operations we can justify our actions based on the recordings coming from the body cam.”
The PNP came under fire after the Aug. 16 killing of Delos Santos, a Grade 11 student, who was accused by the police of being a drug courier, a charge which the minor’s family and friends vehemently denied.