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Killer culture

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - December 23, 2020 - 12:00am

Another video was going viral yesterday. It showed inmates in an overcrowded Philippine jail (location unknown), some of them lying in improvised hammocks, singing the refrain from K-pop girl band 2NE1’s hit: “I don’t care, eh eh eh eh eh…”

It was supposedly meant to welcome Jonel Nuezca to life as a jailbird. Nuezca, as we all know, is police Master Sergeant Jonel Nuezca, who last Sunday in Paniqui, Tarlac showed off to his 10-year-old daughter and the neighbors how easily he could take not just one but two lives.

In this awful year, we didn’t think there could be something more appalling than the death, incurable disease, economic collapse, loss of livelihoods and destitution spawned by COVID-19. But even people in other parts of the globe were shocked by that video taken on a phone.

The video showed Nuezca in an altercation with his neighbors, trying to grab Frank Anthony Gregorio, 25, whom the cop suspected of setting off a pipe cannon or boga. Gregorio’s mother Sonya, 52, held on to her son. Nuezca’s daughter then jumped into the fray, screaming, “My father is a policeman!”

To which Sonya responded by singing, “I don’t care, eh eh eh eh eh…”

Nuezca then fired point-blank at Sonya’s head, and then did the same to her son. As the two lay dying on the ground, Nuezca finished them off with two more shots.

*      *      *

Philippine National Police officials have reassured the public that this is an isolated case and Nuezca does not typify the PNP member.

The reassurance was diluted by a message posted on Facebook by Capt. Ariel Baruga, police chief of Bato town in Catanduanes: “My Father is a policeeeee Mannnnn ha!!! I don’t care eh eh eh eh eh er!!! P@#Yng ina mo gusto mo tapusin na kita ngayon???? Bang Bang Bang Bang.. Lesson Learn kahit puti na ang buhok o ubanin na tayo, eh matuto tayong rumispeto sa ating mga Kapulisan.. Mahirap kalaban ang Pagtitimpi at pagpapasensya.. RIP Nanay and Totoy..”

A certain Shiela Mae Tanael posted this reaction to Baruga: “So sinasabi nyo sir kasalanan po ni nanay kong bakit sya nabaril ng pulis kasi wala syang respeto?”

Baruga responded: “opo (yes).”

Alerted to the posts, Bato Mayor Juan Rodulfo sacked Baruga. Still, it raises the question of how prevalent Baruga’s idea of respect might be in the PNP.

Cops like Nuezca and Baruga will never get respect. And “I Don’t Care” might yet turn out to be a protest song.

The deadly abuse of power is not rare in the PNP, even in this pandemic. In Ilocos Sur, two cops are facing charges for raping and molesting two minors they had apprehended for curfew violation during the COVID lockdown, and then murdering one of the girls.

In Quezon City, a retired Army soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder was fatally shot in the back by a policeman at a COVID checkpoint. Over in Sulu, four military intelligence officers tracking down potential suicide bombers were also gunned down by cops last June.

Yesterday, President Duterte told the PNP to feed the “crazy” Nuezca the COVID virus, as he warned the police: “Do wrong and there will be hell to pay.”

Still, the atrocious disregard for human life that Nuezca displayed is inevitably being blamed in part on the kill, kill, kill culture that has been heightened in the PNP since Duterte assumed power.

*      *      *

I write “heightened” because extreme violence is not new to the PNP. “Salvage” – the rescue of ship wreckage or its cargo from loss at sea – came to mean police execution of suspects during the Marcos dictatorship. That was when bodies started turning up in the city of Manila with messages written on cardboard, tagging the fatalities as thieves who should not be emulated.

The restoration of democracy did not put an end to the violence. Salvaging with the cardboard tags on victims returned when retired cop Alfredo Lim, dubbed as Manila’s Dirty Harry, became mayor.

Cops participated in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre. And police have seen that readiness to kill in the war on drugs is an asset in career advancement in this administration.

A law enforcement culture that rewards the abuse of force can create Jonel Nuezcas. He was cleared of grave misconduct related to an anti-drug operation last year that resulted in the deaths of two suspects.

Our society itself, however, encourages violence. The many armed threats to both state forces and civilians and weak rule of law compel even non-violent people in our country to keep guns for self-defense.

That suggestion to make cops surrender their guns when off-duty won’t fly. PNP members are supposed to be on active duty and then on standby around the clock. In areas where the Abu Sayyaf, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and New People’s Army operate, depriving off-duty cops of their guns would turn them and even their families into sitting ducks.

Even members of drug trafficking and carjacking rings – especially if they have political connections – have shown lethal brutality toward lawmen, whether on duty or off.

*      *      *

So what might be done to discourage the creation of monsters in the PNP?

Police recruits must pass a psychiatric exam, although I’m not sure how effective this can be. Also, even some PNP officials have acknowledged the problem of applicants paying bribes for a positive psychiatric evaluation.

There is talk about offering cops anger management services. Maybe this will be useful. Nuezca could have saved himself and his family enormous grief if he had heeded an admonition of former president Joseph Estrada: “Ang napipikon, talo.”

And clearly, the PNP needs greater awareness of human rights.

Some weeks ago, PNP spokesman Brig. Gen. Ildebrandi Usana told us on OneNews’ “The Chiefs” that there is a continuing program to promote respect for human rights in the PNP. Usana used to head the PNP’s Human Rights Affairs Office. Obviously, the office faces a tough challenge.

The PNP also needs more stringent, sustained housecleaning. Nuezca remained in the PNP despite his multiple administrative cases. Last October, he was demoted over an extortion case in 2014. He faced another case for refusing to take a drug test.

A policeman for a father? Now Jonel Nuezca is just a foolish man, facing life in prison.

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