Another day, another death in police custody. Even the alleged cause of death is the same: shortness of breath.
What is it about police precincts that cause ordinary Filipinos to lose the ability to breathe in such premises?
On Aug. 2, former overseas Filipino worker Allan Rafael was picked up by cops while he was driving along Claro M. Recto Avenue; two sachets of shabu were allegedly found in his person.
Rafael’s brother Aarun, in a Facebook post, said his brother was forced to admit he was into illegal drugs and made to withdraw cash from a bank ATM.
The police officers also allegedly stole his watch, before he was brought to Barbosa Police Community Precinct.
The police’s basis for insisting that Rafael, 35, was into drugs?
Because he was thin, said Aarun. But he looked thin not because he was an addict, but because he was a cancer survivor who had undergone chemotherapy and an operation. That delicate condition would only be aggravated by his ensuing ordeal in prison.
As Aarun recounted, “Noong dinalaw namin sa presinto noong Linggo, malakas pa ang kuya ko, pero kinukwento na niya na binubugbog at sinasampal siya ng mga pulis doon pati ’yong dibdib niya na bagong opera para umamin na nag-drugs siya (He was still strong when we visited him at the precinct last Sunday, but he said he was being beaten up and slapped by the police, even in the chest area that had just been operated on, so he would admit to having used drugs).”
On Aug. 6, after four days in detention, Rafael was dead. The police said he had trouble breathing; if so, why was he not brought to a hospital on time? Was he allowed to expire just like that?
Any possible investigation by autopsy into the suspicious circumstances of his death were, however, effectively thwarted by the police’s next shocking move: According to Aarun, the cops had Rafael’s body embalmed — without the family’s knowledge, much less consent.
Police Chief Supt. Guillermo Eleazar, director of the National Capital Region Police Office, said in a statement that “the detainee was not subjected to torture or inhumane treatment… He was not slain contrary to the allegation of some.”
Not a line of commiseration or sympathy for the death of an individual while in their custody, or the remotest acknowledgment that Rafael’s wellbeing — indeed, that of any citizen apprehended by the police — is their responsibility.
Rafael’s case is a carbon copy of Genesis “Tisoy” Argoncillo’s. Among those swept up in the administration’s anti-“tambay” dragnet last June, 25-year-old Argoncillo was arrested in Quezon City merely for being shirtless.
Days later, he was dead, allegedly after suffering from shortness of breath in a Novaliches police station.
But the death certificate said otherwise.
Argoncillo succumbed to multiple blunt force trauma; he had contusions and bruises on the neck, head, chest and upper extremities.
The Philippine National Police pinned the death on two men in the ridiculously cramped cell (128 inmates in the space for 40), because Argoncillo had supposedly been “unruly.” The jailers didn’t even see the violence happen.
“Look what happened to my brother’s life… It was your obligation to secure him,” Argoncillo’s sister Marilou cried before unmoved police officials.
It was the Roman poet Juvenal who first asked: “Who watches the watchmen?”
Who, indeed, now that it has become a virtual invitation to possible death for any ordinary citizen to find himself in the company of the people’s supposed protectors?
And that threat spares no one, not even those in positions of power.
In Tejero, Cebu, barangay councilor Jessielou Cadungog was recently the target of an assassination attempt by riding-in-tandem assailants.
Cadungog’s bodyguard, however, managed to shoot back and kill the gunman.
The first twist? The dead gunman turned out to be a cop, PO3 Eugene Alcain Calumba.
The second twist? The Central Visayas Police claimed it was Cadungog and his bodyguard who attacked Calumba. The driver of the motorcycle was held as a witness, not as a suspect.
In the matter of erring cops, “We will be as chilling, as deadly, in our cleansing program,” PNP Director General Oscar Albayalde recently warned.
He should be told: The chilling, deadly air is being felt not by rogue cops but by ordinary Filipinos, who bear the brunt of the corruption and unremitting impunity now blighting the police force.
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