Hontiveros calls for 'extensive reform' after police shoot 4 soldiers in Jolo

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
Hontiveros calls for 'extensive reform' after police shoot 4 soldiers in Jolo
File photo shows Senator Risa Hontiveros.
The STAR / Geremy Pintolo, File

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Thursday filed a resolution calling on the Senate to launch a probe that will aid legislation in response to the killing of four soldiers by police officers in Jolo, Sulu.

Hontiveros said her resolution "aims to institutionalize measures against the excessive use of force and violence within the police force."

Congress can hold investigations in aid of legislation because it has oversight powers on how the executive branch implements laws and policies.

"The incident in Jolo further feeds the public's distrust toward the [national police]. Especially since this is not the first time this has happened...our police cannot be trigger-happy," the senator said in a mix of English and FIlipino.

While initial police reports on the incident state that the soldiers tried to flee when apprehended, military reports counter that the soldiers identified themselves, were complying with the police and were in fact parked in front of a police vehicle when the shooting transpired.

On April 21, army veteran Winston Ragos was shot by Police M/Sgt. Daniel Florendo at a quarantine checkpoint after the former allegedly started an argument with personnel of the Quezon City Police District unprovoked.

Hontiveros further said the shootings may be indicative of how police handle interactions with civilians.

"The police gunned down unarmed plainclothes soldiers, who could easily have been innocent civilians. We also know that so many civilians have died at the hands of police. How many more need to die — whether civilian or soldier, in Manila or in Jolo — for this injustice to end?" She pressed in a mix of English and Filipino.  

The senator also claimed that the public's trust in institutions has eroded as these police killings unfold, highlighting the need for "extensive reform."

"The PNP has a lot to do to live up to its motto to 'serve and protect.' Our law enforcers should preserve peace in our communities, not disturb it."

'War on drugs' 

The Philippine National Police has been under intense scrutiny from human rights groups, both in the Philippines and abroad, as it carries out President Rodrigo Duterte's campaign against illegal drugs.

While the government places the campaign's death toll at 5,655, rights groups count fatalities as high as 27,000.

The Commission on Human Rights on Thursday said it has monitored 55 complaints of alleged extrajudicial killings during the community quarantine period alone.

To allay these concerns, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Tuesday said the government created an inter-agency panel to investigate the drug war killings nearly four years after it was launched by the Duterte administration. 

Guevarra said the panel, chaired by the Department of Justice, was formed to conduct “a judicious review of the 5,655 anti-illegal drug operations where deaths occurred.”

However, rights groups fear that the creation of the inter-agency panel is performative— a “ruse” to avoid international scrutiny and investigation.

Human Rights Watch has said that the panel is "deeply flawed" on its face.

Phil Robertson, the group's deputy director for Asia, pointed out that agencies directly implicated in the drug war — the PNP and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency — are part of the newly-minted oversight team.

The Departments of Justice and the Interior and Local Government, both of which are also involved in the bloody campaign, will evaluate and finalize the review.

“[The panel is] a naked attempt to discourage the Human Rights Council from starting an independent, international investigation into the ‘drug war’ killings and related violations as recommended by the UN high commissioner,” he added.— with reports from Gaea Cabico






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