PWD group condemns shooting of 18-year-old with special needs

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
PWD group condemns shooting of 18-year-old with special needs
Photo shows the family of Edwin Arnigo meeting with NBI investigators and Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian.
Release / Valenzuela City PIO

MANILA, Philippines (Updated May 26, 2021, 1:09 p.m.) — A group representing persons with disabilities on the autism spectrum denounced the killing of an 18-year-old special needs man at the hands of Valenzuela City police earlier this weekend. 

To recall, Edwin Arnigo, who was diagnosed with intellectual disability as a comorbidity to his autism spectrum disorder, was shot dead when police raided a tupada or illegal cockfighting game in Valenzuela City on Sunday. Mayor Rex Gatchalian confirmed that the bullet came from a police officer's weapon, but asserted it was still unclear if the weapon had misfired or the boy was caught in the crossfire. 

In a statement sent to Philstar.com, nonprofit Autism Strong Philippines called for justice for the victim's family and urged the national police to educate itself further on the autism community.

"The police forces have a role in serving and protecting our Filipino people [and should be] a role model when accommodating our persons with special needs in our society today, instead of perpetuating awareness through misconceptions and stereotypes," the group's statement read. 

Gatchalian also told reporters that the victim's family believed that their son was at the homeowners' office when the cops, carrying out their operation, accidentally hit him while running, causing the scuffle.

However, the family also cited eyewitness who said that the police personnel bearhugged and eventually shot the 18-year-old.

Initial police accounts said that the boy lunged for the police officer's weapon and attempted to take his service weapon. It is not clear how the encounter started from the police perspective, but police said that a scuffle ensued. The 18-year-old was shot in the process. 

Arnigo's family asserts that the teenager could not have lunged for the gun, as he had autism and was afraid of police officers. 

PWDs more prone to abuse

2015 study by the United States Department of Justice found that the persons with disabilities are more likely to fall victim to violent crimes than non-disabled people. "Persons with disabilities experienced 1.3 million violent victimizations, accounting for 21% of all violent victimization," the study said. 

Closer to home, a 2013 report by NGO Philippine Coalition on the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities submitted to the United Nations admits, “Describing the overall situation of human rights reveals violations of civil, political, cultural and economic rights as undeniable realities in the lives of many persons with disabilities."

"The [police] should reinforce with a more caring, compassionate, and understanding heart. They should not be abusive to the law especially when dealing with persons with special needs," Autism Strong Philippines said. 

"With this in mind, we can move forward from this issue by recognizing and understanding the autism community and by educating ourselves on the realities they face and on the opportunities they deserve."

Philstar.com also reached out to PWD Philippines and Autism Society Philippines for comment. This story will be updated with their responses. 

READ: 'PWDs more prone to abuse': Suspect in rape-killing of special needs girl in Quezon killed

PNP assures cooperation in investigation 

In a statement sent to reporters earlier Tuesday, Police Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, PNP chief, said that the PNP would cooperate with the National Bureau of Investigation. 

Eleazar said that only one officer was placed under restrictive custody, while three others were only relieved and transferred to the district headquarters. 

"We admit that if there is something wrong, someone will answer for it and we will address the lapses so it doesn't happen again," he said. 

"In the meantime, let us wait for the result of the investigation." 

The facts of the case remain unclear. Eleazar in an earlier statement said that the teenager himself was among the suspects of the operation and was hit by a stray bullet, contradicting the initial claims of Valenzuela police leadership. 

Philstar.com sought the Valenzuela City police station for comment but has not received a response as of press time. 

"By knowing the autism community can we properly serve them and work towards establishing a more inclusive society," the NGO said. 

'Critical gap' between law enforcement officers, persons with autism

Autism Response PH in an online exchange with Philstar.com also held issue with the disclosure of Arnigo's condition by both the police and the local government unit.

"We need to train and educate both the families living with autism and to those men in uniform on how to approach this kind of situation," they said.

"Awareness po ang kulang sa ating kapulisan likewise many families are also not open to disclose the condition of their child. Dapat po pareho ang mag reach out."

The group said this was just one symptom of what it called a "critical gap" between law enforcement personnel and persons with autism.

PWD Philippines questioned the narrative used by the police in explaining the "senseless and disturbing" death, calling it "baffling [that] not much details were provided."

"[That] has been used to explain every shooting involving teenagers. None of us in the community give credence to that old, overused story," it told Philstar.com.

"This only strengthens the fact that persons with disabilities, especially those with intellectual disabilities are the easiest targets of abuse and violence, simply because they cannot articulately express themselves and that their testimonies are not given as much weight as a person without disabilities."

The organization echoed calls for the PNP to provide PWD awareness and sensitivity training to their men and women on the field "to avoid needless deaths from persons who are unable to discern danger in such situations."

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