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Kris-Crossing Mindanao

Long hair, short life

Last Aug. 6 was a tragic day for two police officers working in Jolo, Sulu. Police Staff Sergeant Imran Jilah, 43, was killed after he shot dead his superior, Sulu police provincial director Col. Michael Bawayan Jr., 49, at a COVID-19 checkpoint in Barangay Asturias. Jilah reportedly fired a gun at Bawayan when the latter reprimanded him for sporting long hair. One news report stated that Bawayan attempted to cut Jilah’s hair and this prompted Jilah to shoot the him.

This is not the first tragic story of policemen killing each other this year.

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In June 2021, three other police officers were killed in similar incidents, where a fellow cop killed his colleagues for trivial reasons that would not have resulted in a killing under “normal” circumstances.

Early in June, Police Cpl. Sherwin Rebot shot dead his fellow police officer, another corporal, Higino Wayan, after the former lost to the latter in an arm wrestling match. In an earlier version of this report, Wayan allegedly killed himself during a drinking session with Rebot and another police officer, Harold Mendoza. After an investigation, the three police officers were found to be drinking while on duty.

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On June 25, Police Executive Master Sergeant Reynante Dipasupil fired his gun indiscriminately at his colleagues at the Manila Police District main headquarters. Dipasupil, who was allegedly drunk, hit two fellow police officers, Reynaldo Cordova and Romeo Cantal. The two victims died later at a hospital while undergoing emergency treatment.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) has come under fire lately for incidents of police officers abusing their authority through the use of inordinate force against hapless civilians during the pandemic. But civilians are not the only victims of police officers’ propensity to use their firearms in any “crisis” they face; some of them have also killed their own kind.

In 2020, former PNP chief Gen. Archie Gamboa organized a corps of psychology-trained police officers to help address the mental health needs of police officers. But this was a long delayed initiative as police brutality and killings of police officers against their own colleagues are not new. Incidents like these have happened long before the onset of the pandemic.

Licensed psychiatrists and psychologists should be part of the police corps of officers but they should not be doing police duties. They should only focus on providing counseling, psychological testing, and even psychiatric interventions when police officers start manifesting signs of mental disturbance or simple violations of police officers’ guidelines on proper behavior, e.g., drinking alcohol while on duty. And they should be posted all over the regional police directorates nationwide.

Many studies recognize that policing is a highly stressful occupation that can push police officers to the brink of mental breakdown if not addressed earlier. In their everyday life, police officers encounter cases after cases of crimes, both big and small. Like ordinary individuals, they go through emotional and psychological disturbances as breadwinner, spouse, son/daughter. These stressors weave into their behavior as they deal with their daily dose of crises while on duty. Some have succumbed to either misbehavior or outright abuse of authority as police officers.

Both international and national laws require police officers to respect life at all costs, which means they can use lethal force only as a last resort while dealing with suspects. But this rule has been breached more than followed.

It is a challenge for both present and future PNP leaderships to recognize seemingly “invisible” mental health problems among police officers to help stem the cases of killings among fellow police officers for the most trifling reasons, like losing in an arm wrestling match.

Or in the case of longhaired Imran Jilah, his life was cut short after he defied his superior who called him out for sporting a hairstyle prohibited among police officers.

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