With unusual speed, the Philippine National Police has concluded that the deaths of the Ozamiz Gang leader and his henchman last week were probably the result of a “rubout.” PNP Director General Alan Purisima said administrative charges have been filed against 14 policemen implicated in the extrajudicial killings, including a superintendent.
“I have already approved the precharge evaluation of those involved in the [Ricky] Cadavero and [Wilfredo] Panogalinga case because it appears in the investigation that there have been violations committed,” Purisima told reporters on Tuesday—or less than 24 hours after President Aquino highlighted the case in his fourth State of the Nation Address.
The President had devoted a paragraph to incidents that continue “to stain the honor of our police force.” (The official English translation of the Sona offers a somewhat more literary version of the ritual speech. The paragraph in question begins with: “There are still incidents that sully our police force’s honor.” In the rest of the quote, below, we follow a more colloquial reading.)
“We must all have heard about what happened to the members of the Ozamiz Gang, Ricky Cadavero and Wilfredo Panogalinga: They were arrested, but ended up dead. Like the investigation we conducted into what happened in Atimonan, we will make sure that those policemen or whoever were involved here will be made to answer—no matter how high their ranks are. Whoever are the masterminds here: Get ready. I am close to finding out who all of you are.”
The President’s language suggests that he had been recently briefed by Purisima or Interior Secretary Mar Roxas about the status of the internal investigation that the PNP conducted (which is separate from the inquiry launched by the National Bureau of Investigation, on orders of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima). It also suggests that he now considers the official response to the Jan. 6 incident in Atimonan, Quezon—the deliberate ambush at an improvised checkpoint of alleged leaders and protectors of an illegal gambling syndicate, resulting in 13 deaths—a benchmark to measure future inquiries by.
From the start, the Ozamiz Gang escape-try story raised suspicions. Only a few hours after being presented by both Roxas and Purisima at a Camp Crame news conference on July 15, Cadavero and Panogalinga were killed in San Pedro, Laguna. The police escorts claimed that the two had tried to grab their firearms, after their convoy came under attack from unknown motorcycle-riding gunmen.
Even before a witness came out (and sources inside Camp Crame began talking), the details of the story already seemed hard to credit. Why were the two criminals brought out of Camp Crame after the news conference by the same police escorts, when they were brought there precisely to be turned over to the Bureau of Correction? Why were they brought all the way to Laguna, when protocol dictates that the inquest proceedings take place in the Muntinlupa penitentiary?
Those questions tell us why the PNP has filed administrative charges against those implicated in the incident. In Purisima’s words, “there have been violations committed.” But if the witness who saw the police set up a barricade in San Pedro—which later turned out to be the exact spot where Cadavero and Panogalinga were killed—is telling the truth, then administrative charges are not enough. If the sources in Camp Crame who call for an investigation into the manner in which the van carrying the two criminals were hit by gunfire are telling the truth, that police firearms were used, then administrative charges cannot be enough.
The real question is: Why were the gang leader and his henchman, who had previously escaped but were recaptured only recently, killed after a high-profile news conference featuring no less than the chief of the PNP and his civilian boss?
The real sullying of the honor of our police force is done by those police officers who serve as protectors or partners of criminal syndicates. To wash out the Ozamiz Gang stain, multiple murder charges similar to those filed in the Atimonan 13 case must be brought against everyone involved—no matter how high their ranks are.