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Record police wrongdoing

/ 04:30 AM January 15, 2021

Some three weeks after he was caught on video shooting dead in cold blood two unarmed neighbors in Tarlac, Staff Sergeant Jonel Nuezca was dismissed from service on Monday, for “seriously compromis(ing) his character and standing in the Philippine National Police (PNP), which shows his unworthiness to remain in police service,” according to the report of the PNP’s Internal Affairs Service to police chief Gen. Debold Sinas.

The Parañaque policeman has been charged with two counts of murder for killing Sonya Gregorio and son Frank Anthony after a minor altercation on Dec. 20. Despite video footage that has since gone viral showing Nuezca wielding the gun and killing the victims point-black—and his purported expression of regret over the crime, per Sinas himself—the killer cop entered a “not guilty” plea in his arraignment on Jan. 7.

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While it may have assuaged public outcry over the incident, Nuezca’s firing and corresponding forfeiture of benefits should not put an end to this case. The policeman, who had two previous homicide cases that were dismissed for alleged lack of evidence and several administrative cases, should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law and levied civil damages on top of criminal liability.

The dismissed cop, whom Sinas earlier praised for surrendering after the shooting incident—a mark of his “character,” declared the police chief with complete lack of irony—represents the deteriorating face of law enforcement in the country as seen in the escalating number of police officers and officials linked to corruption, abuses, and rights violations.

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Citing PNP data, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque disclosed that from July 2016 to December 2020, a total of 16,839 police officers have been penalized for various offenses.

Given many policemen’s propensity for violating the law and Nuezca’s spotty service record, it wouldn’t be an overreach to conclude that without the video, the Tarlac shooting would have ended up hewing closely to the official “nanlaban” (fought back) narrative that police routinely foist on the public to explain away the extrajudicial killing of thousands of drug suspects. Without the video, would Nuezca have given up his flight and surrendered?

Strangely enough, it was Sinas himself who seemed to downplay the value of such recorded evidence, even warning people against videotaping similar incidents in the future, saying it was “very tricky” and might put their lives in danger.

Foreign Secretary Teddyboy Locsin promptly countered Sinas’ warning on Twitter. “It is the duty of every citizen to take photos and videos—a dimension of crime-fighting we can finally trust because it is we, the people, fighting crime by exposing it. Recording crime especially by crime fighters is the best reason to have a cellphone,” Locsin tweeted.

Which brings up a pertinent question: Whatever happened to the mandatory body cameras for the police that would have documented their operations to ensure adherence to law enforcement protocols? More than two years after its purchase was given a P334-million budget by Congress and its contract awarded to a supplier, the procurement of the recording device was still “ongoing,” according to PNP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ildebrandi Usana. One skeptically wonders what’s taking the police this long to secure the gadget that would ensure basic transparency in their operations.

Fortunately, CCTVs and cellphone cameras have taken up the slack, with one of the latest bungled police operations, this time in Olongapo City, also caught on video, resulting in the relief of acting chief of Police Station 4 Capt. Walter Primero. The CCTV video shows Primero and his station’s Drug Enforcement Unit tussling with a suspect and attempting to arrest him, while the latter’s relatives tried to stop them. Though their chief has described the anti-drug operation as legitimate, the video did not show any actual buy-bust transaction. Relatives of the suspect also claimed that he was initially accosted for not wearing a face mask, but that the cops—who were not in uniform or in a marked police car—later told them they had found sachets of “shabu” on him.

With police impunity showing no signs of abating, the cellphone camera has become the ordinary citizen’s weapon against abuse and harassment by law enforcers. Locsin is right: The public should ignore Sinas’ misgivings and whip out their phones at every seeming instance of police wrongdoing. It was the strong and unassailable evidence captured on video that got Nuezca swiftly arraigned on two counts of murder and sacked from the force. However, it will take not just plain dismissal, but his full and thorough prosecution, to begin to convince the public that the police is serious about enforcing the law, even—and especially—against their own kind.

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TAGS: Philippine National Police (PNP), PNP Chief Gen. Debold Sinas, police bodycam, police impunity, PSSGT Jonel Nuezca, video camera
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