Tragic “police operation” in Negros
BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon (The Freeman) - April 2, 2019 - 12:00am

The lead in the wire story from the Agence France-Presse carried by Channel News Asia was pretty straightforward: “Rights groups on Sunday (Mar 31) condemned what they called a ‘massacre’ of 14 farmers by police in the central Philippines as authorities defended the incident as a legitimate operation against suspected communist rebels.”

The news was devastating not only for the number of people killed in a single, coordinated police operation --life has become cheap in this country where death squads do their thing with impunity and under the nose of police officials-- but for the fact that a similar coordinated police operation happened December last year at Guihulngan City, Negros Island. In that operation, six people were killed and 13 were arrested --many of them activists.

Police call this operation the Synchronized Enhanced Managing Police Operations (SEMPO), also called One-Time Big-Time operation when police were still using it against drug peddlers. But now police are doing SEMPO against suspected communist sympathizers in Negros, using search warrants issued by a court in Cebu City.

From both a strategic and tactical point of view, this SEMPO against members of farmers and other cause-oriented organizations in Canlaon City and Manjuyod, Negros is a disaster in law enforcement.

From the strategic point of view, the number of community activists turning up dead in police operations will become the single most important recruitment tool for the New People’s Army to urge those similarly threatened to go underground and join the “people’s army” in the mountains. After all, we have yet to hear of police combing the inner mountain ranges of Negros and doing their SEMPO there. They are so far only after the soft targets --those poor farming communities considered friendly to the NPAs.

From the tactical point of view, blood-soaked SEMPO defies a principle in good policing: that the police, by virtue of the authority that the community vests in them, “have an overarching responsibility for the outcome of encounters with civilians,” whether the latter be law-abiding or law-breaking citizens.

Good policing is knowing when and how to enforce the law with the least casualties; that which inspires respect to police authorities as an organization of men and women who swear to uphold service, honor, and justice.

The principle is that good policing embraces the partnership between police and the community. But once the police leave a trail of dead bodies in most of their operations, how can they expect to gain the respect and support of the community?

According to the Agence France-Presse report, police claim the 14 men shot at officers with search warrants for illegal firearms, prompting police to return fire. But a statement from the wife of one of those killed in the operation in Canlaon City, 59-year-old Edgardo Avelino, tells a different but very specific account of what transpired in their home at 2 a.m. last Saturday. A copy of her statement was sent to me last Sunday.

Carmela’s husband, Edgardo, suffered one gunshot wound in the forehead, one each in both shoulders and one on his right cheek. There are more statements from witnesses about what happened to the other 13 people killed. Aside from these testimonies, the killings left forensic evidence and other traces for investigators to discover.

We urge the National Bureau of Investigation, the Commission on Human Rights, and Congress to open a thorough investigation into this tragic “police operation”.

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