Iron fist
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - May 31, 2019 - 12:00am

With the help of the house helper who survived the carnage last Sunday, the killer of an octogenarian couple in Quezon City was arrested with impressive speed by police in Caloocan on Tuesday.

Carl Joseph Bananola, 37, was presented to the media late Wednesday morning. House helper Editha Fernandez identified him as the one who broke into the home of Nicolas Austria, 86, and his wife Leonora, 87, in Barangay San Agustin in Quezon City, and fatally stabbed and bludgeoned the couple with a pipe. Fernandez reportedly recognized Bananola because he used to deliver eggs to the couple.

About seven hours after the media presentation, Bananola, who reportedly took P16,100 in cash from the house, was himself dead. 

The cops gave conflicting details of what happened. But the emerging official version, it seems, is that while being transported in a police vehicle from the Quezon City Prosecutor’s Office, where he was brought for inquest, back to Camp Karingal, Bananola asked to have his handcuffs loosened. His wrists were bound behind his back.

When police S/Sgt. Alex Icban granted the request – maybe he had a flash of humanitarian goodwill – Bananola allegedly tried to grab the cop’s gun. In the ensuring scuffle, the gun went off and hit him in the chest. This was along Kalayaan Avenue before 7 p.m.

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This storyline is older than me. Human rights advocates like to stress that as much as possible, cops are supposed to shoot to maim rather than kill. 

Public safety hardliners, on the other hand, argue that cops can use lethal force when their lives are in danger.

The Philippine National Police cannot declare on its own that the killing of Bananola was justified; even suspects have rights and the case must be referred to a prosecutor for an unbiased inquest. The PNP Internal Affairs division must also determine if the cops involved should face administrative charges.

An intriguing aspect of these cases, however, is how the public perceives the killing. For sure Bananola left behind relatives and friends who grieve over his death. Among those who don’t know him personally, however, a common comment was that Bananola had it coming. Their reaction to his killing, for which we had to update our earlier story last Wednesday night about Bananola’s arrest, was good riddance.

I’ve seen similar reactions to the killings by police of suspects in the rape and murder of children. The police explanation of why they had to shoot to kill almost always boiled down to two scenarios: the slain suspect tried to escape, or else tried to grab the gun of the arresting officer.

We can’t completely rule out the possibility that there are arrested suspects foolish enough to do such things. But even if we know that cops are merely trying to sell us Jones Bridge over the Pasig River, I can surmise – based on muted public protests – that most Filipinos are willing to look the other way when certain types of lowlifes are dispatched to their maker. 

Even in jails and national prisons, I’ve been told that child rapists and similar types of offenders are often targeted for execution by fellow inmates. Even among incarcerated criminals, it seems there’s a special place in hell for certain types of offenders. 

And the average Pinoy couldn’t care less. Some people I know, upon learning that Bananola had been shot dead, said it would save taxpayers the cost of feeding him in jail and paying for his public defense attorney.

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It’s dismaying for human rights advocates, but Bananola’s case should give an idea of why Rodrigo Duterte was borne to power on a platform of killing criminals, and why he remains immensely popular midway through his term. 

It gives an idea of why the principal enforcer of Tokhang and Double Barrel ranked high in the just concluded Senate race, and why another former national police chief known for “neutralizing” criminals, Panfilo Lacson, is one of the most durable senators.

In 2016 when bodies began piling up in Duterte’s brutal war on drugs, I asked as many people as I could who lived in poor communities – the principal arenas of the war – if they were scared or hated the government for the campaign. I asked drivers of public utility vehicles, market vendors, laundrywomen, janitors, house helpers with families in the provinces. 

They had a common answer: Duterte was getting rid of the troublemaking lowlifes in their communities, and the only ones who were worried were those with drug problems in their families.

Some of them said if the drug-abusing troublemakers were merely rounded up and sent to jail, they would soon be back in the streets. Or else they could escape while their court cases drag on for years.

Surveys have shown that most Filipinos support campaigns against drug trafficking and other crimes, but don’t want suspects to be executed. 

But the weakness of our criminal justice system makes many people support short cuts in law enforcement, even if the short cuts are prone to gross abuses. For such people, slow justice is no justice.

When there’s a measure of certainty that an arrested suspect is guilty – such as the testimony of surviving victim Editha Fernandez plus CCTV footage of Bananola appearing to be casing the couple’s house – people tend to support swift punishment.

The justice system is badly broken. If we want people to stop supporting the iron-fist approach to criminality, what’s broken must first be fixed.

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