One, the interesting thing wasn’t that the crime was done by cops. There’s nothing interesting about that in this country, which has made “hulidap” a byword, a pun on holdup but with the added suggestion of a cop (huli, or to arrest) doing it. The interesting thing was that it was done by nearly a whole precinct.
That is the Quezon City La Loma police station, something likely to spawn a thousand horrific jokes particularly with All Saints Day being just around the corner. Of the kind that has to do with spiriting things, and people, away. Nine of the implicated cops belong to it, including its deputy commander itself, Joseph de Vera. Most of them weren’t just colleagues, they were also classmates at the PNP Academy Class 2001. That, too, is going to spawn a thousand jokes about the curriculum of that academy.
Most everyone has probably seen the pictures of the kidnapping, which was done in broad daylight with the perpetrators imagining they were in an action movie. One of the kidnappers smashed the window of the victims’ Fortuner, which was being blocked by a HiAce van and a Civic—the van was later identified as belonging to De Vera—and he and his companions grabbed their two victims.
They then brought their victims to the La Loma precinct, telling them they were being arrested. For what reason, they didn’t say. The two victims are employees of a Lanao contractor and were in Manila to buy heavy equipment. At the precinct, the cops—or kidnappers—took their victims’ money (P2 million in cash) and made them withdraw from their ATMs, which added another P115,000. Before they released their victims at 9 that night, after seven hours, they warned them not to report what had happened to other police or they would get back at them and kill them.
All this speaks of new levels of boldness and collusion in law-breaking of law enforcers. It also speaks of new levels of inventiveness—kidnapping someone in the guise of an arrest and robbing him unhurriedly in the safety and comfort of a precinct. That can’t make the public feel very safe.
Two, the interesting thing is how the perpetrators were caught. That was courtesy of a motorist who took pictures of the incident and posted these on the Internet. The post became viral, and exposed the identities of the criminals through the license plates of their cars. But for that “accident,” the crime would not have been known.
No one would have known that the criminals were cops, least of all cops from the same precinct. Even if the victims had reported it, the cops could always have denied it. It would simply be their word against the victims’. And the whole idea of cops kidnapping people and robbing them in their own precinct would have sounded far-fetched. You could almost hear their mastermind, who might have been De Vera, the highest-ranking person there, assuring his men before they carried out their “mission” that it was absolutely safe, “walang sabit.” They must now be cursing their bad luck.
Thank God for the cellphone, thank God for the Internet, thank God for the social media. To date, they’ve already exposed a number of crimes, or at least acts of abuse by persons in power. The same compelling need of Pinoys to take selfies is the same compelling need of Pinoys to report everything that’s happening around them.
Or, looked at in another way, our penchant for being usisero (or “Uzis,” as they were called then), as shown in crowds rapidly forming even during coup attempts—like journalists, we do not run away from the line of fire, we run toward it, sometimes with deadly results—has taken a positive twist. With the aid of technology, we do not now just stop to watch unusual, if dangerous, events, we also interact with them. We do not now stop at just being usisero, we go on to being informal reporters, or chroniclers of daily life with a view to sharing our experiences with the world.
Its contribution to crime-fighting, in terms of reporting crimes, identifying their perpetrators and deterring criminals—you never know, someone may be recording a robbery with his cellphone—is incalculable. There’s a downside here, of course, which is that criminals could get aware of this and add the video-takers to the casualties. But even that danger is diminished by their growing numbers. You shoot someone, somebody else might be shooting pictures of it.
Third, the interesting thing is the speed with which the Eastern Police District bore down on the perpetrators. The EPD polished and enhanced the viral pictures and Director Abelardo Villacorta then went down to La Loma to confront the culprits with the evidence. At first De Vera denied knowledge of the incident, but later admitted it, saying it wasn’t a kidnapping but an antidrug operation. He failed, however, to produce papers showing coordination with the antidrug authorities for the mission, or even a report on the police blotter of the arrest of the “drug traffickers.” Subsequently, Villacorta found the victims and managed to get them to talk against their kidnappers. However De Vera wriggled, he was trapped.
Subsequently as well, Quezon City Police District Director Richard Albano fired De Vera’s chief, Osmundo de Guzman. “Whether he knew about it or not,” said Albano, “it is still his responsibility, being the station commander.” Over the last few days, the number of those involved has mushroomed to 12, and growing. It’s not inconceivable the commander himself might have had a hand in it, if indirectly. It’s not even inconceivable that this isn’t the first time this happened, but has been going on for some time now.
It’s the kind of thing that makes you lose trust in the police. But the police’s response to it is also the kind of thing that kind of restores your trust in the police.
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