Doing their job
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - January 3, 2018 - 12:00am

The cops bungled it – “pumalpak” – as Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa described it.

But it was a stupid mistake rather than a deliberate execution of unarmed and innocent civilians, Dela Rosa told a press conference yesterday, and the cops were just doing their job.

It was his assessment of the shooting in Mandaluyong last week that led to the deaths of two persons, one of whom was a woman being rushed to a hospital for a gunshot she suffered earlier in her neighborhood. The other fatality was one of the construction workers who volunteered to help bring her to a hospital.

Dela Rosa and those cops, however, should expect the relatives of those killed as well as the survivors of the shooting to insist that there was a deliberate attempt to kill.

And the incident should lead to a reassessment of the culture that has developed in the PNP under Dela Rosa, which treats human life with such cavalier regard.

The standard excuse of the PNP in killing suspects, especially in drug cases, is armed resistance to arrest or “nanlaban.” Thanks to camera phones, CCTV and social media, several cases have been documented in the war on drugs, showing that certain suspects including teenagers did not resist arrest and were instead executed in cold blood by their police captors.

*   *   *

In the Mandaluyong case, video footage from street CCTV and another recorded by someone from a high-rise provided incontrovertible proof that no shot was fired from the Adventure van that was rushing the woman to a hospital. There was no nanlaban, not by a long stretch.

As the video footage indicated, two men got out of the van and shouted that they were on an emergency mission. And yet the video footage showed the uniformed cops taking positions behind parked cars nearby, ignoring the van passengers’ shouts and opening fire for a long time, their guns aimed directly at the Adventure.

There was no warning shot to compel the rest of the passengers to get out, or at least for the two men to open the back door to prove there was a wounded person inside. The cops simply fired away, with the staccato bursts turning the intersection into something akin to a war zone.

They were aiming at civilians. What happened to shooting to disable rather than kill? Maybe the cops missed firing their guns for the holiday revelry.

At least 36 slugs were recovered from the crime scene. It was a crime scene: whether it was a case of stupidity or a deliberate shoot fest, those were two counts of homicide and several counts of frustrated homicide.

*   *   *

Sure, the cops were doing their job. It’s also understandable that Dela Rosa would defend his cops. Under his watch and his full approval, after all, the PNP has developed a brutal, bloodthirsty image that is worse than the police ever earned during the Marcos dictatorship.

But Dela Rosa’s cops bungled that job big time.

It’s Neanderthal police work, an unthinking form of law enforcement characterized by overkill and a disregard for rules of engagement and the sanctity of life. It cannot be SOP in any professional police organization.

And yes, Juan and Juana, the PNP has rules of engagement that no cop, it seems, ever reads under the current dispensation.

It’s good to see cops doing their job, but any job must be done properly. This is true especially for jobs that deal with keeping the public safe. Anyone who holds the power of life and death should be fully cognizant of the responsibilities that go with it.

The reason that shooting in Mandaluyong has raised public concern in this nation where people have looked the other way in the face of thousands of drug-related deaths is the fear that the kapalpakan could happen again, and more innocent civilians could be killed. Those fatalities could be your spouse, your parents, your kids driving at night in a tinted car, and being mistaken for crime suspects.

We’re all potential sitting ducks.

*   *   *

President Duterte should not let his personal fondness for the loyal Dela Rosa cloud his perspective on effective law enforcement. Keeping the public safe – the lynchpin of the Duterte administration – can succeed only with public cooperation. Without public trust, cooperation is not possible. How can you trust cops who shoot to kill first and ask questions later?

Dela Rosa, obviously with an eye to a political career, has been trying to project himself as a friendly uncle even to the children of those killed in his bloody war on drugs. He could be an avuncular comedian, if only the ghosts of the thousands killed didn’t cast such a dark shadow over him. His public image washes over the entire PNP.

Duterte can compare how the public views the military, whose members often get a hero’s treatment, and the cops who are seen as trigger-happy and utak-pulbura.

Largely because of the conduct of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in battling Maute terrorists in Marawi, Duterte saw public support for martial law in Mindanao, and even for its one-year extension.

The public trust currently enjoyed by the AFP is priceless in performing its mission and achieving its objectives.

After that kapalpakan in Mandaluyong, the PNP leadership should intensify training and skills development as well as values formation among its members. The right to life is the first item guaranteed in the Bill of Rights in our Constitution. With this in mind, every cop should be fully aware of the rules of engagement, which cannot be simplified into this administration’s doctrine of shooting to kill anyone who fights back.

No one is disputing that those cops in Mandaluyong, even if led on by equally bungling and trigger-happy barangay watchmen, were just doing their job. It’s good that the cops were on the job and even risking life and limb in a potentially dangerous situation.

But there’s such a thing as doing the job right.

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