SOS for police’s mistaken targets
I was a Girl Scout so I know that in Morse code, SOS is …—… . It is a distress signal. The three letters do not stand for anything (not for “save our ship” or “save our souls”) except to call for help. (More later.)
What do you do if you find yourself in the crosshairs of armed law enforcers and you do not know why, you have not broken the law, and are not in the company of felons? You are not a bystander in the crossfire, you are mistaken prey.
This is what happened in Mandaluyong City a few days after Christmas Day, news reports of which have clearly shown that the “kill, kill, kill” mindset of cops and barangay tanod (village watchmen) are not figments of one’s cinematic imagination. Picture a car full of people rushing a woman with a gunshot wound to a hospital mistaken as a vehicle with armed criminals on board, chased and repeatedly shot at. Even without return fire from the car being pursued, the firing continued.
When the smoke cleared, two passengers were dead and several badly wounded. At least 36 empty shells and slugs were recovered from the scene, a number of them fired by the tanod who shouldn’t be armed.
While there are rules of engagement for cops in hot pursuit or involved in shootouts and the like, what are innocents who suddenly find themselves prey supposed to do to save their lives?
Earthquake drills and bad weather warnings we have plenty of to prepare ourselves for the worst. (None for nuclear fallout so far.) We even have warnings for “carmaggedon” (traffic gridlock) and how-tos in case of fire, flood, dengue fever, etc. For drivers, we have defensive driving.
But as the police’s mistaken target, none, nada, zilch, wala. Criminals on the run and who fight back are on their own, but if unarmed or surrendering, they are not supposed to be killed. Though that is not how it has been in the past one-and-a-half years in the Duterte Wild West. Consider the alleged 12,000-plus drug-related kills, both by cops and by unknown assailants. But that is another story.
The Mandaluyong case is another territory. It did not seem to be a drug-related one; the victims were not pursued because they were on the drug list or even maliciously listed. The police and the tanod—more than 10 of them—simply acted on somebody’s say-so. And so what happened happened.
“Ayan na nga ba, eh,” could be our collective refrain, which translates roughly to: “But of course, it was waiting to happen. Ilonggos would say “Tê?” and Bicolanos “Nem …” with the proper inflection or tone of voice to convey a variety of meanings.
No ill intent, Philippine National Police Director General Ronald dela Rosa said of his men’s foul-up in Mandaluyong. Metro Manila police chief Oscar “Accordingly” Albayalde was sufficiently incensed and promptly investigated the cops involved.
So how do we innocents protect ourselves when we find ourselves becoming prey and in the police crosshairs? Shouldn’t we — or the police — provide some dos and don’ts for us innocents who might find ourselves the object of police pursuit? Even suspects on the run are given fair warning—to go down on their knees, with their hands up or on their heads. (I’ve been watching too many real-life “COPS” shows on cable TV.) Not quite so in “Oplan Tokhang.”
As I said, I was a Girl Scout so I know that SOS in Morse code is …—… and the signal can be sent as sound or light. Because I drive, I thought a distress signal can be sent repeatedly using the car horn—three short sounds, three long, three short—or using the headlights. Do not use a flashlight because the light could be mistaken as gunfire.
Have a white hankie or tissue to wave as a no-fight, give-up sign. Do not dash out of the car or you might perish in a hail of bullets.
I ask the police authorities: What else can you suggest that we can all agree upon and that bumbling, trigger-happy cops can understand? These …—…, …—…, …—…? And more.
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