State of the nation
The case of farmer Eduardo Serino Sr., last seen alive being held by policemen on Sept. 30 and brought dead two hours later to a hospital, deserves the full attention of the government and the public at large. It is a classic reflection of the plight of poor folk, those without influence and therefore without power, prey to a cop’s sly grin.
In an ideal world, there’s a basic premise in being taken in by policemen: You are safely in their custody while due process runs its course.
But that is not what happened in Serino’s case. According to a report by the Inquirer’s Julie Alipala, from the account of Rosherl Lumpapac, the employer of Serino’s wife, the farmer from Sibuco, Zamboanga del Norte, had traveled to Zamboanga City to bring money to pay for his young son’s hospital bill.
He was probably on his way to the bus terminal and back to Sibuco when he lost his way and wound up walking on RT Lim Boulevard. It was there that cops stopped him and demanded that he open his backpack. He refused.
What happened next is obvious from a photograph that went viral online: Serino is sitting on the sidewalk with his hands behind his back, likely cuffed. His forehead is bloodied; he is wincing. He is being held down by a policeman with a stick. Three other cops are standing around him.
In a post (since deleted) on the Facebook page of the Zamboanga City police office, Senior Insp. Edwin Duco said Serino had resisted the cops and managed to get free of the handcuffs.
The photo, the last image of the farmer alive, was posted by Lumpapac, who described the Serinos as “kindhearted, hardworking and very respectful people.” She added: “I felt bad about the way cops treated manong (Serino). This man has never been violent.”
From the police station on Old Mercado Street, Serino’s bruised corpse was brought by cops to the Zamboanga City Medical Center. Duco claimed that the bruises were caused, not by policemen beating Serino, but by Serino “hurting himself” in the police station. This is why Serino died, Duco claimed.
But he refused to show reporters the police blotter report, citing “guidelines from Camp Crame.” He also would not release the medical report, citing the alleged refusal of hospital authorities.
The Commission on Human Rights is now looking into the case.
At the other end of the country last Oct. 10, a scene of power and influence played out with the arrival at Naia Terminal 1 of Ralph Trangia, a suspect in the hazing death of law freshman Horacio “Atio” Castillo III.
Trangia and his mother, who flew to Chicago in the United States through Taiwan two days after news of the hazing death broke, were well covered by at least three lawyers and one police officer, Chief Insp. Rommel Anicete, said to be a family friend.
For good measure, agents of the Manila Police District and the National Bureau of Investigation were on hand to provide security for the suspect and his mother if needed, reporters were told.
One of the lawyers present denied what had been on almost everyone’s mind: that the Trangias were on the lam; he presented as proof the fact that mother and son had bought return tickets.
A photograph of the future lawyer showed a healthy, bespectacled young man with his whole life ahead of him — not far removed, the attentive observer would note, from the other young man, Atio Castillo, before his life was snuffed out in a night of unspeakable violence.
There is no warrant for Trangia’s arrest, “so he will be treated as an ordinary citizen,” Bureau of Immigration-Naia chief Marc Mariñas told reporters.
As though to complete the arrival scene, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre issued a statement welcoming Trangia’s return and hoping that it is “covered in good intentions to clear his name and to tell the truth.”
“I encourage Mr. Trangia and his family to fully cooperate, to tell the truth and, as a future lawyer, to work for justice,” Aguirre said, adding that “depending on what he will tell our investigators, he could be a potential witness” under the government’s witness protection program.
Not entirely apropos of nothing, the attentive observer musing on the state of the nation will recall that 6 out of 10 Filipinos surveyed by the Social Weather Stations believed that drug suspects who had surrendered were still killed by raiding cops, and that, per the reckoning of the police force, there was only one extrajudicial killing in the administration’s war on drugs. (Later it said there was none.)