Tarlac killings prompt calls for accountability, reforms in PNP
Nuezca was seen on video shooting two people in the head over an argument.
Screen grab from Facebook account of Ronjie Daquigan, a councilor from Gerona, Tarlac

Tarlac killings prompt calls for accountability, reforms in PNP

Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - December 21, 2020 - 1:10pm

MANILA, Philippines — The killing in daylight of a mother and son in Paniqui, Tarlac at the hands of an off-duty police officer is, according to the government. another isolated incident as it promised a full investigation into a killing that follows what the Commission on Human Rights on Wednesday as "deaths after deaths."

This comes in the wake of the grisly killings in Paniqui, Tarlac over the weekend, a video of which has since gone viral on social media. The video shows Police SMSgt. Jonel Nuezca shooting 52-year-old Sonya Gregorio and her son Frank Anthony Gregorio—both unarmed—at point-blank range during an argument.

The killer, who was reportedly assigned to Parañaque City crime laboratory, has since turned himself in to police in Pangasinan and is facing a complaint for double murder. 

READ: Cop in viral video of Paniqui, Tarlac killing surrenders

"What the cop did really wasn't right, especially since he had in his possession a gun supposedly to use against criminals — but one that he used on innocent people," Brig. Gen. Ildebrandi Usana, Philippine National Police spokesperson, said in mixed Filipino and English. "This is an isolated case, we will see to it that justice will be served."

In a separate statement, Interior secretary Eduardo Año called the incident "unfortunate" but stressed the PNP's role as frontliners in the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We wish to remind all police officers to remain calm at all times, to control their emotions, and to conduct themselves in a manner befitting their position as agents of the law. This is an unfortunate but isolated incident. While there are unfortunate incidents like this, the vast majority of our PNP personnel perform their sworn duties everyday with honor and integrity to protect and serve the people," the former military general said.

"The sin of Nuezca is not the sin of the entire Philippine National Police. As we have seen during this pandemic, they place their very lives on the line as frontliners in our COVID response," he added. 

'No mercy': Lawmakers urge reform, accountability 

Lawmakers have called for accountability for the killings.

"If what's on video tells the whole story, I enjoin the Philippine National Police leadership to show no mercy. They should spare no effort to make sure that he rots in jail. He's the last policeman that they need in the force," Sen. Panfilo Lacson, himself a former chief of the Philippine National Police, said in a statement issued Monday morning.  

"The PNP should always uphold its motto 'To Serve and Protect.' That includes taking appropriate steps to protect our people from scalawags in their ranks, whether they are on duty or not," he also said. 

As of this post, hashtags calling for an end to police abuse have gone trending on social media, including "#StopTheKillingsPH" and "#PulisAngTerorista," though the PNP itself asserts that the incident is an isolated case.

Lacson also recommended in his statement that policemen turn in their issued firearms to their unit's armorer or supply officer when on off-duty status. He added that cops should not be issued Permits to Carry Firearms Outside Residence while still in the active service.

"Hope the PNP will make an example of the cop (if he is really one as reported) caught shooting 2 people on video. Cold blooded," Sen. Sonny Angara said on Twitter.

RELATED: 'By the book': A look at quarantine incidents and police operational procedures

The shooting comes as the PNP skips the practice of taping the muzzles of their service firearms as a measure against indiscriminate firing.

'Not an isolated incident' 

"The PNP should not just treat this as an isolated case but a symptom of what could be ailing the institution," Rep. Ruffy Biazon (Muntinlupa) said.

"Don’t stop at prosecution of one but follow with an evaluation of the training, the monitoring of skills, mental health and discipline, as well as protocols and procedures," he also said.

Also slamming the isolated incident narrative, House Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Zarate listed incidents in 2020 involving police misconduct, including the shooting of former soldier Winston Ragos at a quarantine checkpoint in April, the deaths of soldiers in a shootout with police in Sulu, and the killings of elderly former National Democratic Front peace consultants Eugenia Magpantay and Agaton Topacio in November.

"Police have made it normal to shoot civilians who should not be shot. This should not simply pass without investigation and appropriate punishment," Rep. Eufemia Cullamat (Bayan Muna) also said in Filipino. 

"The president's defense and cover-up of police misconduct such as the heinous killings of Oplan Tokhang have resulted in intense arrogance and the spread of crime perpetrated by those who should be enforcing the law."

Rep. Lawrence Fortun (Agusan del Norte) also assailed the "isolated incident" narrative, pointing out the high level of public distrust that the national police has racked up over the years and calling on Congress, the justice department, and the NBI to launch impartial probes into the incident to end police brutality. 

"This latest instance of a police officer mercilessly and brazenly killing unarmed persons is not an isolated incident. It is yet another among multitudes of police brutality," he said.

"Congress must help eradicate the plague of police criminality and brutality. The PNP Internal Affairs Service should be transferred to the Department of Justice. All police criminality and brutality cases should be investigated not by the PNP but by the NBI," he added. 

String of 'isolated' incidents

The Paniqui murders are the latest in isolated killings documented throughout the year, including the murder of former soldier Winston Ragos in Quezon City.   

In comments earlier this month, an official of the Presidential Committee on Human Rights assured police officers that allegations of police abuse and of extrajudicial killings are just a "narrative" peddled by the political opposition to discredit the Duterte administration.

When the Baguio City Police Office prepared raps against two police officers of the defunct Regional Drug Enforcement Unit over the kidnap-slay and subsequent beheading of a Baguio City resident,  Police Brig. Gen. R’win Pagkalinawan, who serves as Police Regional Office–Cordillera regional director, called it an isolated incident.

The RDEU was dissolved last week because of the case. 

The shootout in Jolo in June that resulted in the deaths of four Army intelligence personnel was labelled a "misencounter" and an isolated incident. The NBI's investigation later found basis for planting of evidence and murder raps. One soldier was shot eight times, they found. 

In the aftermath of Ragos' death in April, police leadership claimed that cops "followed instructions" when they shot him in the back. It was also called an isolated incident.

A subsequent probe by the National Bureau of Investigation found that Quezon City cops planted evidence on Ragos' body to back up their claim that he was armed. His family insists to this day that he wasn't. 

PNP operational procedures, which are public documents available on their website for anyone to access, prohibit the use of excessive force, but holds that "in the lawful performance of duty, a police officer may use necessary force to accomplish his mandated tasks of enforcing the law and maintaining peace and order."

The Commission on Human Rights on Monday said the Paniqui shooting should prompt a probe into other allegations of arbitrary killings involving cops. — with reports from James Relativo and Xave Gregorio

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