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Excessive force

/ 05:07 AM April 25, 2020

After promising an investigation into the shooting incident last Tuesday in Barangay Pasong Putik, Quezon City, that led to the death of a former soldier, Winston Ragos, the QC Police District has filed a homicide complaint against Master Sergeant Daniel Florendo Jr. who, backed up by four police trainees, had shot and killed Ragos.

The harrowing video that went viral showed Ragos turning his back on Florendo as the policeman shouted instructions at him with his gun pointed at the civilian. Ragos had his hands up in the air for some time, before he faced the cops and appeared to be pulling something out of his sling bag, at which point Florendo fired. Ragos spun around, staggering, and Florendo’s second shot was made while Ragos had already turned away from the policeman.

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Was the killing justified? The police said they acted accordingly because Ragos had responded in a hostile manner when they ordered him to return home for violating the quarantine, and they suspected him of carrying a firearm. As the cops drew their guns on Ragos, alarmed bystanders could be heard pleading with the police not to shoot because the man they were subduing allegedly had a mental health problem. Ragos, it turned out, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder; the Philippine Army confirmed in a statement that “in January 2017, Ragos was given a complete disability discharge from military service, complete with pension and other assistance, after being diagnosed with a mental disorder (PTSD).” Ragos’ distraught mother also bared afterwards the prescription receipts issued to her son by a psychiatrist at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center.

According to a witness quoted by CNN Philippines, as residents called on the police to go easy on Ragos, one of the cops said: “Wag kayo makialam, wala akong pakialam. Papatayin namin ‘yan.” They also appeared to have goaded Ragos to put up a fight: “Sige, subukan mo… P—ina mo, sige, iputok mo!” Relatives deny that Ragos had a firearm with him given his mental condition, but police claim they found a .38-caliber gun and ammunition inside Ragos’ bag, which they themselves confiscated after the incident.

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The Philippine National Police’s operational procedures explicitly prohibit the use of excessive force: “The excessive use of force during police operation is prohibited. However, in the lawful performance of duty, a police officer may use necessary force to accomplish his mandated tasks of enforcing the law and maintaining peace and order.” Elsewhere, the police manual says: “During confrontation with an armed offender, only such necessary and reasonable force should be applied as would be sufficient to overcome the resistance put up by the offender; subdue the clear and imminent danger posed by him; or to justify the force/act under the principles of self-defense, defense of relative, or defense of stranger.”

Unsurprisingly, Florendo and his superiors are invoking self-defense to account for the cop’s behavior. As Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, head of Joint Task Force Corona Virus Shield, rationalized in an ABS-CBN report: “Nakita mo na talagang ayaw mag-react, [ayaw] sumunod sa sinasabi mo, and then pagharap, talagang nang-cha-challenge pa, and after that, bubunot ng baril, eh ikaw anong gagawin mo? Iilag ka parang sine? Ta-tumbling-tumbling ka bago mo i-approach?”

However, Eleazar was quick to add a caveat to his insouciant take on the incident: “’Di natin pinangungunahan ang imbestigasyon, but what I’m trying to say is given the circumstances, probably I would have done the same during the same situation.”

No gun was visible on Ragos’ person at any time. There were five policemen ranged against him, and at one point he had yielded to their command by turning his back on them and raising both his hands. And if force was really needed, why an immediately fatal shot, and not one that would have at least immobilized him? The police are supposedly trained to defuse and deescalate hair-trigger situations like this to ensure maximum respect for life, but the footage shows no such attempt by the law enforcers to initiate any form of interaction in a controlled, nonbelligerent manner before Florendo fired on Ragos. Unnervingly, the men with guns sounded more agitated than their target.

Was the lethal force necessary? Reasonable? Those are questions too important to be left to the police, which had warned, chillingly, that, “In the name of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, there will be no more warnings for violators, no let-up, we will start arresting.” In the name of the President and not even of the rule of law? No wonder foot soldiers like Florendo seem all too quick to squeeze the trigger.

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TAGS: checkpoint, former Army, PNP, QC shooting, Quarantine, Ragos, Soldier
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