Witnesses, including at least one minor, who watched a police officer shoot dead two unarmed civilians on Dec. 20 are under tight watch by the Tarlac police and are undergoing psychological debriefing by social workers, police said Wednesday.
Tarlac police brought the two witnesses to Paniqui police headquarters where Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Debold Sinas met and talked with them in a closed-door meeting without their parents or guardians present.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Wednesday said witnesses in the killing of Sonya and Frank Anthony Gregorio in Paniqui, Tarlac may apply for protection with the Department of Justice under its Witness Protection Program.
Guevarra said the DOJ has not yet received any request for witness protection from the Philippine National Police.
“But if the witnesses needed protection, they may apply directly with the DOJ WPP and we shall evaluate their application for provisional coverage immediately,” Guevarra said in a text message to reporters.
The mother and son Gregorios were killed by Police Master Sergeant Jonel Nuezca during a heated confrontation on Sunday.
After an inquest, the DOJ found probable cause to file two counts of murder against Nuezca, who has a history of criminal and administrative cases, including two homicides in 2019. Both were dismissed for lack of evidence.
Nuezca was also demoted one rank over a 2014 extortion case.
A human right advocates group CenterLaw condemned the double murder caught on video, which showed Nuezca shooting Sonya and her son Frank in the head point blank over an argument over a holiday noisemaker.
The killings, the group said, was yet more proof that “a culture of killing and unbridled violence has pervaded the ranks of the Philippine National Police.”
The group said the PNP, as an institution of peace, has failed under the current climate of widespread violence.
“The badge has become nothing more than an empty symbol of service and having a gun has only resulted in making our communities unsafe,” it said.
“The killing of the Gregorios caught on camera was not an isolated incident. Everyday, killings of ordinary citizens– lawyers, doctors, activists, journalists, mothers, fathers, and children–dominate the news,” the group added.
“Our streets run red with the blood of innocents [while] our leaders wash their hands… Those who kill and those who propagate the killings must be brought to justice because those who are killed never deserve it.”
On Wednesday, Sinas reached out to the family of Sonia and Frank Anthony Gregorio and handed them financial assistance and expressed his sympathy to surviving family members.
Nuezca, who surrendered to the police after the shooting, admitted he was intoxicated when he confronted the Gregorios.
Tarlac police have filed two counts of murder against him before the Paniqui, Tarlac Regional Trial Court.
The Gregorio’s will be buried on Sunday Dec. 27 at a private memorial park in Paniqui town.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said it has provided psychological support for Nuezca’s 12-year-old daughter who witnessed the shooting.
“The local government unit of Gerona in Tarlac and the DSWD in Central Luzon have arranged a psychosocial intervention yesterday (Dec. 22) for the minors,” DSWD spokesperson Irene Dumlao said.
A resident psychologist at the Tarlac Provincial Hospital conducted the psychological intervention.
Dumlao said DSWD and the Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC) have appealed to the public to spare the girl from condemnation and cyberbullying.
In a radio interview on Tuesday, Dumlao said the girl was at a stage of her life where she still has to learn to control her emotional impulses.
In a separate message, CWC officer John Principio said there is ongoing psychosocial assessment for the other minor who witnessed the crime.
“The other minor in the scene is a relative of the victims. Yesterday, the child of the perpetrator was scheduled for an evaluation with a psychiatrist. Today, we have arranged for the other minor,” he said in Filipino.
Dumlao said the DSWD also conducted an assessment in Paniqui, the scene of the crime, to provide psychosocial support to the residents in the neighborhood.
“It is important that they also recover from the incident,” she said.
Florentino Gregorio, widower and father of the victims, also appealed to the public to stop insulting the girl on social media.
He said the girl’s parents were to blame for how she reacted during the altercation between Nuezca and the Gregorios.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) said it was “deeply concerned” over the welfare of Nuezca’s daughter as her photos have been circulating on social media.
The UN agency underscored that children have the right to be protected from all forms of violence, including bullying, noting that the girl was also a “victim” in the murder of Sonya Gregorio and her son, Frank Anthony.
It appealed to the public to refrain from using violent language and posting her photos and personal information, saying this only causes additional harm, trauma, and stigma to the child.
Citing various studies, Unicef said children who witness violence become vulnerable to physical and mental health problems, some of which would only manifest when they reach adulthood.
As a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it noted that the Philippines is “duty-bound” to uphold the right of all children to be protected from all forms of violence.
At the same time, Unicef called for justice for the double murder of the mother and son.
Save the Children Philippines denounced the recent shooting, which was witnessed by a number of children.
“We strongly believe that violence in all forms is unacceptable – more so if it is brazenly committed in the presence of children. Exposing children to violence is in itself a form of violence against children
and sets a dangerous example to a generation of future leaders and parents,” the group said.
“Violence has a devastating long-term impact on children and seriously affects a child’s development, dignity, as well as physical and psychological integrity,” it added. “The brutal incident can cause irreparable trauma, especially to the children involved, that may manifest later in the form of depression, anxiety, anger, disassociation, and other health problems.”
“Vilifying, condemning, and cyberbullying are also not the solutions to the issue,” the group said.
“Rather, it is the strict exercise of our obligation to raise children responsibly in a nurturing home and their protection from violence that parents, guardians, and the community must undertake.”
Also on Wednesday, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) disputed the PNP view that the shooting incident was an isolated one.
“This is not an isolated case. The only isolated or exceptional thing to happen here is the clear video documentation of events leading to and the actual shooting,” the group said.
It also denounced Sinas’s call not to post video of police violence on social media, calling it “an utterly disgusting endorsement of impunity.”