On one hand, it’s heartening that Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, a former military man, has categorically stated that Southern Police District Chief Brig. Gen. Nolasco Bathan had no business snatching the cellphone of journalist Jun Veneracion, or of any person for that matter, at the height of the frenzied Black Nazarene “traslacion” last week.
(Año: “He should not have done that kahit na hindi ‘yan si Jun Veneracion. Kahit ordinaryong tao lang ‘yan. Hindi pwede na basta kukunin ang cellphone. Hindi ‘yan kasama sa dapat gawin ng isang police officer”.)
On the other hand, it’s disheartening that, despite Bathan’s disgraceful conduct, and despite the promise of an impartial investigation, Año said he still saw no reason to suspend Bathan over the “specific and isolated” incident.
Acting Metro Manila police chief Brig. Gen. Debold Sinas, who announced that he had ordered the PNP’s International Affairs Service to investigate the incident, was seemingly even more solicitous of Bathan: The phone-snatching general could retain his post even while an investigation is ongoing, said Sinas, as his actions were “part of his performance or function.”
Never mind that that excuse directly contradicts Año’s words (“Hindi ‘yan kasama sa dapat gawin ng isang police officer”—That’s not part of what a police officer should do).
Bathan himself has apologized, while in the same breath offering a most preposterous, asinine explanation for his actions. Per Veneracion’s account, he was covering the traslacion and was recording how a group of policemen was forcefully subduing a devotee on Ayala Bridge when Bathan suddenly “darted out of nowhere and snatched my mobile unit, and quickly left the scene.”
Veneracion tried to run after him but was “accosted” by another policeman. What stood out for the veteran journalist was that the phone snatcher had “a star on his shoulder.” Photojournalists covering the same event later told Veneracion that the phone snatcher was a “fuming mad” Bathan, one of the district heads who were called upon to help secure the popular procession, which this year drew some three million Nazarene devotees.
Bathan eventually returned Veneracion’s mobile phone, but Veneracion claimed the video of the “commotion between cops and a hapless devotee” had been deleted.
Unfortunately for Bathan, the phone has a “recently deleted” folder, allowing Veneracion to retrieve his video clip. More damningly, the phone had apparently continued recording after it was grabbed from Veneracion’s hands, and Bathan could be heard instructing someone, presumably an underling: “Burahin mo, burahin mo kuha ni Jun Veneracion. Pu— ina, nagku-kwan eh.”
The only logical explanation for Bathan’s bizarre action was that he didn’t want footage recorded and broadcast of instances of devotees being manhandled by the police. To be fair to the uniformed personnel tasked to impose order and security on the event, the tumult of the traslacion and the zeal of many devotees to get near the Nazarene image amount to an extraordinarily stressful, hair-trigger situation where a fair amount of pushing, shoving and more becomes unavoidable—and that was, in fact, captured in pictures and videos by other journalists at the scene.
But excessive force is hard to justify, and the prospect that he and his men could end up in hot water for their rough treatment of fervid devotees was presumably what drove Bathan to do what he did. That, and the arrogance to think he had the power to do it.
A day later, Bathan put on a chastened face by offering apologies—and a description of the incident beyond belief.
“It all happened unintentionally,” he said.
He did not immediately recognize Veneracion as a media worker, thought that the journalist “posed a threat,” and mistook Veneracion’s phone for… a grenade, and so he grabbed it without thinking. Yes, he was actually being a hero with his action: “Even if that were a grenade, I would have taken it to save lives.” (As wags would say, huwaw.)
Asked, however, about his recorded directive to delete the phone video, Bathan could only answer with a deflated “I don’t know.”
With four of five Filipinos believing that there are so-called “ninja cops” in the police force and three of five Filipinos thinking that many cops are involved in the illegal drug trade, the Philippine National Police is undoubtedly suffering from an abysmal image problem. Bathan’s
conduct last week, and the ritual slap on the wrist he seems to be headed for, is only bound to worsen the public’s regard for those in police uniform.
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