Even at this late stage, with overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Philippine National Police insists that there is no extrajudicial killing under its watch.
In October, there was a lone case it recognized as an EJK—the killing of Catanduanes-based journalist Larry Que—but, presumably swiftly chided by higher-ups, the PNP spokesperson, Chief Supt. Dionardo Carlos, corrected himself just a day later. “We don’t have cases considered as EJK as of now, so I stand corrected,” he was quoted as saying. The PNP had, by this time, already tallied 6,225 drug-related deaths since July 2016, according to its records (a number much lower than the estimates of independent human rights observers). But, in its original statement that was subsequently rescinded, the PNP said the possibility of citizens becoming an EJK victim was “very remote, if we based it on facts and not on impression or perception.”
Tell that to the family and relatives of Zenaida Luz, the anticrime crusader in Oriental Mindoro who was killed by assassins on a motorcycle on Oct. 9, 2016. In a rare breakthrough, her killers were caught just minutes after their crime—and they turned out to be a pair of active police officers.
The shocking revelation that Senior Insp. Magdalino Pimentel Jr. and Insp. Markson Almeranez were moonlighting as vigilantes was direct, incontrovertible proof of something the public suspected, but which the PNP had dismissed as speculation: that at least some members of the police force were somehow involved in the avalanche of killings happening in the course of the Duterte administration’s war on drugs. That shadowy connection would appear to explain why, despite the nightly pileup of drug suspects shot in their communities or abducted and then eventually dumped dead in some ditch or grassy field, their mysterious killers routinely got away.
But the case of Zenaida Luz and her apprehended killers blew the lid off this hunch and confirmed it for all to see: that the mask-wearing killers roaming the land indeed included cops among their ranks.
Is there any doubt that this was, in fact, an EJK case? As Luz’s sister Perlita put it: “Isn’t it [an EJK] when a state agent, someone in authority, unjustly kills a helpless civilian? To me, that should be clear enough.”
If the PNP were half as serious about its avowed aim not only to go after criminals unrelentingly, but also to rid itself of scalawags like Almeranez and Pimentel, here was a perfect opportunity for it to dissociate itself from such hoodlum behavior. What organization, after all, would want murderers as members? PNP Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa takes pains to insist every time—even tearfully on occasion—that the police organization is transforming itself into a renewed force for discipline and respect for the law under a supposed tough-minded, no-bull administration.
But only consider what has happened in the Luz case. In a twist that’s even more shocking than the original news of policemen exposed as vigilantes for hire, those very same cops charged with Luz’s murder have, after only eight months in detention, been returned to active duty in the PNP’s Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon, Palawan) regional police, with their salaries restored and ranks untouched. The PNP aired the assurance that Pimentel and Almeranez would neither be given assignments in the “mainstream force” nor allowed to carry firearms—as if that would somehow mitigate the outrageous notion of law-breaking cops (charged with no less than murder in this case) performing law-enforcement duties again.
Then again, before this, the police officers involved in what the Senate concluded was a rubout of Mayor Rolando Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte, while already in prison also saw their charges downgraded from murder to homicide—and now they’re likewise back on duty.
What, in the name of all that’s holy, has become of the police force?