To serve and protect?
Police shooting down civilians whether as part of an operation, by accident, or by murderous intent, have been taking place for many years. But when the killings took place before, it became the word of the police and their superiors versus the accounts of victims (if they survived) and of witnesses. And in this contest of power and credibility, guess who was likely to win?
But video “testimony” has changed all that. Or to be more exact, footage of actual shootings captured by the ubiquitous cell phones have provided not just authorities but even the public at large a close-up view of events that in the past were covered up, distorted, ignored, or even denied outright.
No longer is it so easy for police to dispute the accounts of eyewitnesses, especially since technology allows the incriminating footage to be sent instantly through social media and thence to formal media outlets. It is also possible to have the gruesome scenes replayed over and over, building momentum for public rage and demands for accountability.
So it was with the killing last Monday evening of Lilybeth Valdez, 52, who was accosted on the street by Police Master Sergeant Hensie Zinampan. The policeman, who according to onlookers and responding police appeared drunk, approached Valdez from behind, pulled her by her hair, then shot her in the neck, killing her instantly. The footage of the shooting was dark and unsteady, but there is no doubting the suddenness of the shooting and the intent to kill the grandmother.
Interviewed later, Zinampan explained his actions by saying that a month earlier he had tried to intervene in a violent argument between two of Valdez’s sons, only to have them turn on him. “I was beaten up and ended up with a black eye,” Zinampan complained, adding that the brothers did not even “respect” his stature as a policeman. The Valdez family said that since then, they had been harassed and threatened by Zinampan, though perhaps none of them ever imagined the cop’s ire would result in their mother’s death.
Ironically, in light of a similar incident, the shooting of a mother and her son in Tarlac by Police Master Sergeant Jonel Nuezca last December, Zinampan shortly after posted on social media a staunch defense of the police force, saying he was “proud to declare the integrity of the uniform.” Writing in all caps, the online equivalent of shouting to high heavens, Zinampan declared: “I am proud to be a good cop.”
Well, Philippine National Police Chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar holds a different opinion. “Karumal-dumal at hindi katanggap-tanggap” was how the PNP head described Zinampan’s actions. Eleazar loudly confronted Zinampan, with television footage showing him shoving the erring policemen against a wall, for which Eleazar subsequently apologized. Such theatrics are not needed; Eleazar should only ensure, as the public expects and demands, that he will bring the so-called law enforcer to swift justice.
Around the time that Valdez was killed, another violent incident involving cops occurred. Police Cpl. Higino Wayan figured in an altercation with two fellow cops and a driver after a drinking spree and a bout of arm-wrestling which Wayan won. Wayan was shot in the chest, though he was initially reported to have killed himself. The two cops were identified as Police Corporals Sherwin Rebot and Harold Mendoza. The driver, Lorenzo Lapay, first said Wayan shot himself but later changed his story and pointed to Rebot as the shooter.
About a week earlier, police in Bulacan were also accused of shooting and killing 18-year-old Edwin Arnigo, allegedly in the course of a raid on an illegal cockfighting operation. Arnigo, said the police, had attempted to flee the scene, but his family recounted that he was dragged from his home to the cockfighting site where he was first beaten up and then disrobed. Arnigo had been diagnosed with autism, according to the family, so police claims that he had anything to do with illegal cockfighting were false.
In the wake of all these police atrocities, some officials have proposed that comprehensive neuro-psychological evaluation and counseling be provided policemen. These may indeed be necessary, but the arrogance, audacity, and sense of impunity of police especially in the last few years can also be traced to the policies instituted by higher-ups, and the attitudes articulated by national officials, not least of them the Chief Executive.
Just hours before the killing of Valdez, President Duterte was on the air telling victims of summary executions and their families that, in essence, they were to blame. “His” policemen, Mr. Duterte said, were “trained to kill,” so it was incumbent on civilians to keep to the straight and narrow and avoid any encounters with law enforcers. Whatever has happened to the police’s sworn duty “to serve and protect”?