Where are the police body cams?
Police Senior Master Sergeant Jonel Nuezca, the Parañaque City police officer who shot a mother and her son in broad daylight (and in front of his own daughter, a minor) in Paniqui, Tarlac, last Sunday, is now in custody. The police may crow at the swift apprehension of the murderer from among their ranks, but in fact Nuezca surrendered and was not arrested. And the most likely explanation for the relatively quick action is that Nuezca’s shocking deed was captured on a phone camera, the video of which has since gone viral.
Now, imagine the thousands of other police killings over the last four years that went simply unrecorded, allowing cops to foist on the official records their rote claims of the victims having resisted arrest and thus ending up dead (“nanlaban”). The most sensible solution to deter police from going overboard in their operations, and to verify what really happened once disputes arise on the facts of the case, is for the police to be required to wear body cameras on official operations, on pain of sanctions if they fail or refuse to do so. But why hasn’t this happened?
The last time the public heard about body cameras for the Philippine National Police was a few months ago when some 2,600 units purchased were supposed to be tested on Oct. 12.
The mandatory use of body cameras in police operations has long been delayed: proposed in 2017 following the police killing of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos, funded after Congress approved a P334 million budget in 2018, and awarded to a contractor in 2019. What has happened since then? That question needs a pressing answer, following a recent spate of arrests in which police were again accused of planting evidence on arrested suspects. The arrest of urban poor organizer Reina Mae Nasino in November 2019, then of peasant organizer Amanda Socorro Echanis in Cagayan province early this month and a female journalist and six union organizers on Dec. 10, Human Rights Day, all ended up with the detainees charged with illegal possession of firearms, ammunition, and explosives—a nonbailable offense that the detainees dispute, claiming that the police planted the evidence.
That accusation against the police has persisted and only intensified during the bloody drug war. According to surveys, majority of Filipinos do not buy the police “nanlaban’’ claims, and believe cops plant the evidence they use against suspects. A June 2020 report of the United Nations Human Rights Office documented this malpractice: Police raids on private households were “routinely carried out without warrants,’’ it said, and that post-operational reports indicated widespread planting of evidence. In particular, “police repeatedly recovered guns bearing the same serial numbers from different victims in different locations, suggesting some victims were unarmed at the time of their killing.’’
Against these charges, one would think the PNP would be at pains to use every means available to disabuse the minds of the public of the suspect reputation that has surrounded the work of the police. But why is the PNP leadership seemingly dragging its feet on the implementation of the body-camera technology, which has become standard among law enforcement agencies around the world to deter police abuses and protect both the police and the public?
In a Senate hearing last Oct. 1, Sen. Ronald dela Rosa asked about the status of the project, which he had originally proposed when he was PNP chief in 2017. Then PNP Chief Gen. Camilo Cascolan said around 2,600 units had been delivered and that the “functional testing and evaluation’’ would be held on Oct. 12. The PNP awarded a P289 million contract to EVI Distribution, a company based in San Juan, in December 2019.
There has been no update from new PNP Chief Gen. Debold Sinas on how these cameras have been deployed. Thus far, the PNP operational guidelines on the drug war and the supplemental guidelines for the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency only state that the use of the body cameras is “encouraged,’’ not required or mandated.
Chief Supt. Joseph Adnol, director of the PNP Drug Enforcement Group, declared that “there really is no need for a body cam” because “our camera as policemen is God, ‘yun ang pinaka-camera natin na tinitingnan tayo.”
The piety is touching, but misplaced. God cannot be summoned as a witness in yet another case of police killing. If the PNP is halfway serious about proving that its operations, particularly those in line with the Duterte administration’s drug war, are legitimate, aboveboard, and follow protocols, what could be more concrete than relying on body cameras to show the country how law enforcers conduct their work? Unless, of course, what they do these days in secret cannot survive legal scrutiny in the plain light of day?
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