'No such thing' as culture of violence, impunity in the PNP — spokesperson

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
'No such thing' as culture of violence, impunity in the PNP â spokesperson

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine National Police, which has earned a reputation of heavy-handedness during the months of quarantine and in the 'war on drugs', believes there is no such thing as a culture of violence or of impuntiy in its ranks, its spokesperson said Tuesday morning. 

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 in the middle of a heated argument.

Speaking in an interview aired over ANC, Police Brig. Gen. Ildebrandi Usana, the spokesperson for the PNP, said that the agency should still be a credible institution despite the Paniqui killings and other documented instances of abuse in the past. 

"There is no such thing as a culture that is bordering on that crime that he committed. We never condone that, and we also have internal cleansing. The culture there is really to serve and protect people, and that is our oath of office. There are many more good deeds that have already been committed by our police officers, and we are not even showing this," Usana said. 

"We have vivid stories of heroic acts committed by police officers. We also have our share of police officers who laid down their lives so others may live. The act committed by this Nuezca will not dampen the best intentions of our police officers for having done all the pains in the service of our people," he also said.

Police leadership has repeatedly denied or minimized allegations of abuse and misconduct—with one police chief saying there was "no such thing" as extrajudicial killings—while also brushing off what critics say is a culture that leads to such instances of abuse.

The agency's importance is also often raised in its defense, with Interior Secretary Eduardo Año highlighting their role as coronavirus "frontliners" on Monday in a statement that stressed that the Tarlac killings should not reflect on the PNP.

Critics and human rights groups have blamed the killings on government's alleged failure to hold abusive police officers accountable and on statements from President Rodrigo Duterte encouraging violence and killing.

Duterte has said that he did not mean police can shoot people in cold blood and presidential spokesperson Harry Roque has parried the criticism, saying: "Why do they say state-sponsored if that one policeman is crazy?"

'Reforms not needed, killings won't trigger change'

Lawmakers have condemned the killings with some calling for reforms within the organization, and others expressing consternation short of any practical recommendations moving forward. Some have also filed resolutions seeking hearings into the incident and into police protocol.

But Usana said the structure of the PNP is enough to prevent other "isolated incidents" from happening again.

"We have many programs, in fact. We don't want to create an impression that the PNP will have to change just because of Nuezca...we still maintain our position that this is indeed an isolated case," he said.

"We do not want to create an idea that this is reflective of the PNP as an institution of public service. We have more than 221,000 police officers, and offenses do not even reflect more than 10%, in fact. At the end of it all, we do not consider this as something that will be condoned by the PNP and reflective of the PNP itself," he also said. 

Roque, citing PNP data, said that some 16,800 cops had already been penalized by the agency for varied offenses, with 4,800 of them already being dismissed from service. 

"You have the Internal Affairs Service and the People's Law Enforcement Board," Usana said.

"You even have the [Commission on Human Rights]," he also said. 

The CHR, often painted by government officials as being on the side of criminals, has repeatedly said that agencies, including the PNP, have been less than cooperative in investigations into alleged rights abuses.

READ: CHR hopes for reform, greater cooperation with Gamboa as new PNP chief | CHR says no data shared yet under pact with DOJ on rights violations probes

The Presidential Human Rights Committee earlier this month told PNP officials that concerns over human rights abuse are only a narrative created by the political opposition.

'No reason for Nuezca to shoot'

Asked for his reaction to the video that has since gone viral on social media, the police general said, "There was no reason for him to even do that at all. There was no sufficient provocation. There was sufficient time for him to think about the implication of what he would be doing. Although we didn't see the entire video." 

Although police leadership condemned the killings, this was not a sentiment shared by the entire force. 

In a Facebook post published after the video went viral and that has since been taken down, Police Capt. Ariel Buraga — now sacked as acting chief of the Bato, Catanduanes police — said the Gregorios would not have been killed if they had shown Nuezca respect.. 

"I'm not siding with the police, what he did was wrong. I'm pointing out that even if the person was elderly, she should still have respect for our police. Because that's what seems to be missing with us these days. We police are people too, we aren't robots and we have feelings that get hurt also," he said in Filipino a day after a screenshot of his post went viral and the mayor of Bato asked that he be replaced.




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