Senate urged to pass body cam bill to prevent illegal arrests, evidence-planting by cops

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
Senate urged to pass body cam bill to prevent illegal arrests, evidence-planting by cops
Members of the Quezon City Police District test the body cameras donated by the city government on Feb, 6, 2019.
The STAR / Boy Santos

MANILA, Philippines — Police need to wear body cameras during operations, Sen. Francis Pangilinan stressed on Saturday, citing the case of peasant organizer Amanda Echanis who was arrested by police along with her infant son earlier this week based on what she and groups said were planted evidence and fabricated charges.

"We need to protect the public against the possibility of police abuse of power or use of violence such as planting of evidence, illegal arrest, and even killings," Pangilinan said in Filipino.

He further called for the immediate passage of his Senate Bill 427 or The Body Camera Act which requires law enforcers to immediately activate the recording devices at the beginning of their operations or at the first reasonable opportunity when there is an immediate threat to life and safety. The measure stipulates that the cameras shall not be deactivated until operations have been concluded.

In his statement, Pangilinan noted that the bill, if enacted into law, would be helpful in areas without CCTV and would serve as protection for policemen as well.

He added that the proposed Body Camera Act allows the deactivation of the camera in specific instances to protect the privacy of occupants of private residences, crime victims and anonymous reporter of crimes, among others, but doing so would require their consent.

The footage recorded by the devices are subject to a retention period of six months from its recording date and will be permanently deleted thereafter.

"However, if the said footage has evidentiary or exculpatory value, the period of retention may be extended for a longer time not exceeding three years upon the request of concerned law enforcement officers and the public," Pangilinan's office said.

Police Gen. Camilo Cascolan, former top cop, in October told a Senate panel that some 2,600 body-worn cameras were received by the Philippine National Police on September 30. He said police officers, with a priority for those conducting anti-drug operations, would soon be outfitted with the devices.

'Thousands may have been arrested, killed based on planted evidence'

“Aside from Amanda, thousands have been arrested or even killed by the police, possibly [based] on planted evidence. Until now, justice is still not served,” Pangilinan said in Filipino.

Rights group Karapatan noted on Thursday noted that Echanis is the latest in a slew of arrested political prisoners accused of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

A majority of the 656 political prisoners in the country are detained for the same charge, Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said during a press conference.

Echanis, daughter to recently murdered peace consultant Randall, and organizer for women peasants' group Amihan, was arrested on Wednesday morning, following law enforcers’ implementation of a court-issued search warrant which, Echanis said, was not shown to her. Her one-month-old son was picked up along with her.

Citing information from Echanis, Rep. Ariel Casilao (Anakpawis party-list) during a media briefing said law enforcers were inside Amanda’s house for five hours before barangay officials—serving as witnesses for the implementation of the search warrant—arrived at around 8:30 to 9:00 a.m.

The five-hour interim would have been “enough [time] to plant arms and explosives and M16 [rifle] seized as stated in their report,” Casilao said in Filipino.

De Lima says she fears for safety of Echanis and her baby

Sen. Leila de Lima, who has been detained for almost four years now, slammed the arrest of Echanis and her month-old son.

"With this government’s already dismal record of suppressing human rights, one cannot but fear for the safety of Amanda Echanis and her newborn,” she said in her 986th Dispatch from Crame.

"Having witnessed the fate of Reina Nasino and Baby River, we are deeply concerned for the safety and welfare of Amanda and her baby, as well as the plight of other similarly situated mothers and their children,” De Lima added.

READ: Mother-activist's arrest reminds of Reina Mae Nasino's case

According to her, women human rights defenders have become open targets of violations by the security sector, adding that the state's alleged practice of planting evidence and outright red-tagging cast doubt on whether they will treat Echanis fairly.

RELATED: Palace urges protection of Amanda Echanis’ child but stands firm on ‘truth-tagging | Criminalize red-tagging? Lacson says Constitution will be his guide

Pangilinan noted a statement from the University of the Philippines College of Arts which said that Echanis, one of its graduates, was in Cagayan Valley carrying out relief operations when she was arrested. Cagayan Valley is one of the areas severely affected by the recent onslaught of typhoons. 

In their own joint statement, the Senate minority bloc on Friday called for the urgent relase of Echanis and her baby from prison, citing humanitarian reasons.

"Jail is not a place for a mother and her one-month-old boy she is nursing. Considering the vulnerabilities of mother and son, releasing them is in their best interest as per the First 1,000 Days Law or Republic Act 11148," Sens. Panagilinan, De Lima, Risa Hontiveros and Franklin Drilon said.

"We also recall that the probe on the brutal death of her father, Randall Echanis, has yet to find conclusion," they added.

While his murder remains unsolved, a forensic pathologist has since said that Amanda's father, 71-year-old Randall, a long-time consultant for the National Democratic Front of the Philippines suffered several punctures and stab wounds, signs of torture, before he was fatally stabbed.

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