It took four days for former top cop and now senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa to own up to the gravity of the shitstorm he had unleashed with his flabbergasting comment on the recent death of a 3-year-old child from a police operation — you know, that “shit happens.”
Yesterday, in a TV interview, he attributed his blunder to a clumsy way with words:
“I apologize to the family for the comment na nasabi ko … what I meant by the expression ‘shit happens,’ ibig ko sabihin non, siguro wrong choice of words lang ‘yung sa akin. But the expression was there. Dapat sinabi ko pala unfortunate incidents do happen (I apologize to the family for my comment. It was a case of wrong choice of words … I should have said, unfortunate incidents do happen).”
But was it a case of plain glibness, really — the tendency to shoot off one’s mouth because “the expression was there”? It’s true that Dela Rosa takes pride in mimicking the ways of his boss and idol, President Duterte, who has referred to innocent victims of his brutal drug war, such as children and other family members caught in the crossfire, as “collateral damage.”
Dela Rosa’s “shit happens” remark is but a reiteration of that characterization, though he now says he was just careless with his words. In fact, he said, “I did not say collateral damage. I just said incidents like that happen and that does not happen only now. It has happened many times in the past.”
Another part of the TV interview, however, appears to provide a more telling window into Dela Rosa’s mindset. While acknowledging that what he said was offensive, Dela Rosa pointed out that his comment was meant only for the police force and not for the general public.
His exact words: “Mali pala ’yun. Dapat sa pang pulis-pulis na community lang ’yun na words, hindi for the general public dahil nga prone to be mabigyan ng di magandang meaning.” In other words, it wasn’t wrong, it was only misinterpreted by the wrong crowd.
Talk about things getting shittier. Dela Rosa doesn’t seem to realize it, but that defense does not, in fact, diminish the implication of police callousness and carelessness behind his words, but underscore it.
The public has been rightfully outraged at the cavalier, trigger-happy record of the police when it comes to the drug war, resulting in the “unfortunate” deaths of many innocents, of which 3-year-old Myka Ulpina is but the latest.
As Inquirer columnist Randy David lamented in his column last Sunday, “Child protection groups have recorded more than a hundred children killed in such drug operations since July 2016. This number does not include the tens of thousands of traumatized orphans who have been left to fend for themselves following the death or detention of their parents for drug offenses.”
As it is, humane, professional law enforcement would have seen the death of a child arising from its operations as one death too many, and trigger, at the very least, deep introspection among the top brass about the efficacy of their methods and practices.
What Dela Rosa’s belated clarification reveals, however — or reconfirms — is the presence of a culture of casual, cruel dismissiveness in the police ranks for their actions, where “shit happens” is an acceptable, perhaps even the rote, excuse for the deaths of citizens they are sworn to serve and protect.
Thus, Dela Rosa can feel safe uttering the words among his former uniformed colleagues, because they will be the last people to challenge the nonchalance and disrespect toward human life those words signify.
Too bad, however, that the clownish former police chief was once again too loquacious for his own good, simultaneously shocking and regaling the public with the latest blast of incriminating folly from his mouth.
Some good may yet come out of Dela Rosa’s debacle. It should, for instance, doom this early his pet push for the reimposition of the death penalty, which he says is his first order of business in the Senate.
A law enforcement and justice system this rash, reckless and sloppy, not to mention decidedly directed at the poorest sectors of society, cannot be trusted with meting out capital punishment with any fairness and rigor.
And with Dela Rosa’s actions and utterances over the last three years, he’s about the least credible champion there is to promise a death penalty system that would be fair and aboveboard.
He can’t even provide forthright accountability for his latest howler, but must dodge and weave and say it was meant only for a select audience of kindred spirits — a shitty sorry for some truly shitty words.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.