Yes to police body cams

/ 04:07 AM November 12, 2019

The most sensible, potentially game-changing idea relating to how antidrug war operations could be improved has been formally put on the table, and it bears the imprint of the newest name to join the campaign: Vice President Leni Robredo, who is pushing for the use of body cameras in all “tokhang” operations to be conducted by the police.

It’s an idea, of course, that should have been adopted from the start. Had the Duterte administration thought about equipping the police with the technology, which is now an indispensable part in the work of many law-enforcement organizations worldwide, it would have spared the Philippine National Police the widespread suspicion and fear with which the public has come to view its antidrug drive.


Note what the surveys have said — that more than half of all Filipinos disbelieve the cops’ recurring narrative of “nanlaban” (fighting back) to explain the extraordinarily high body count of dead, and mostly poor, suspects they have amassed in the last three years.

That rote claim, moreover, has been debunked more than once by CCTV evidence, as in the case of the killing of teenager Kian delos Santos, which CCTV footage showed was a case of summary execution and not the firefight the police alleged it to be.


But imagine if the cops in that case, and in the innumerable other cases of drug-related deaths where the victims’ families eventually cried foul play, had been outfitted with body cameras to record their every move.

If the PNP says it assiduously follows its protocols in conducting these operations — as it insists it does every time, to be frustrated only by the violent moves of suspects that inevitably lead to their deaths — then it would have no problem presenting such video evidence to disprove the charges.

To accusations that it routinely plants evidence, a working body cam should be the easiest means to prove that the police’s hands are clean. To the even more heinous allegation that some policemen also rob the houses of their victims in the course of drug raids, all everyone has to do is to look at the body cam footage to settle the matter — that is, if body cams are indeed required gear in the raids.

But, more than three bloody years into the “tokhang” campaign, they are not. The PNP budget for 2019 is P173.24 billion, 30 percent higher than the 2018 budget of P132.58 billion.

Still, bewilderingly, it appears no one in the Duterte administration, from Malacañang to Congress to the police brass, has seriously pushed for the required use of body cams as a simple but vastly consequential tweak to police work — not only failing to allot part of the PNP’s gargantuan budget to acquiring the inexpensive technology, but, more tellingly, refusing so far to institutionalize the practice by commanding its use at all times, as part of thorough police documentation.

As CNN reported, “The PNP and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency [PDEA] ‘encourage’ the use of body cameras and other gadgets to record anti-illegal drug operations, but these equipment have not been purchased.”

Now, why not? Perhaps because the whole idea of “tokhang” was precisely to dispense with rules and engage in shortcuts in order to physically eliminate as many suspects as possible, ostensibly to drive the fear of God, or a ruthless President, into the hearts of drug criminals — even if that constituted a criminal assault on due process and the rule of law?


Perhaps because the only acceptable outcome, the only valid metric of success under President Duterte’s pet program, is in fact the sight of dead bodies — as can be gleaned from Sen. Bong Go’s startling goading of Robredo to “kill all the drug lords” (“patayin mo lahat ng mga drug lords”) to jump-start her antidrug work?

The profound harm the “tokhang” program has wrought on the stature and credibility of the police force can only be repaired by welcoming greater transparency and accountability for all the deaths and other irregularities that have marked this campaign.

Compulsory video records of police operations may prove to be yet another deterrent to wrongdoing, so if the PNP says it has nothing to hide, then it would gladly accede to having its performance recorded for independent public scrutiny, via required body cams for a start. It could have saved itself all the grief it now endures in the citizenry’s eyes, had it insisted on this basic self-protection measure from the start.

PDEA chief Aaron Aquino has challenged Robredo to join an antidrug operation, supposedly so she could see for herself how the work is done — and Robredo has accepted. Now it’s Aquino and this administration’s turn to accept Robredo’s call: Equip all “tokhang”-assigned policemen henceforth with body cams, and let the plain truth about the war on drugs emerge from that official record.

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TAGS: body cameras, drug war, Inquirer editorial, leni robredo, Rodrigo Duterte
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