Who can see a cop now without feeling a sort of visceral fear?
In a minute or so of blood-curdling footage, we saw what we knew all along. The scene pans out like a bad memory: In childhood, we were taught to behave, or else. Or else, of course, is the policeman—mamang pulis, the ever-trusty boogeyman—will take us away. Even then, police presence has, contrary to its intended purpose, elicited fear instead of reassurance, terror instead of comfort. As recent events made so terribly clear, our parents could not have been more right.
“Unimaginable” is the farthest thing we can use to describe the footage of Police Senior Master Sergeant Jonel Nuezca shooting Sonya and Frank Gregorio point-blank. How could it be, when this type of brazen police violence has been playing out in this country for so long, like the rumination of a bad memory we cannot begin to forget. In this protracted perception and recollection of violence, cops have clearly become the antagonists.
“They are slaughtering us like animals,” is, perhaps, the most synecdochal line from Duterte’s war on drugs, which Daniel Berehulak used as the title of his coverage in The New York Times—a lamentation he heard from a bystander who saw a 17-year-old girl shot in the streets. Who were “they” but the Philippine National Police (PNP)? And who can pretend otherwise? Not even the most ardent exegetes of the president can ignore the truth that he gave the marching orders for “his” policemen to kill—as many as they want, until the waters run red, he will take care of them, he said.
In what could only be described as willful ignorance, the government’s usual defenders immediately came up with their well-rehearsed script—that this was an isolated incident, that Nuezca being a policeman had nothing to do with it, that he was just “one bad apple among many.” But one mere cursory Google search of the keywords “Philippines,” “police,” and “killings” would reveal a well-documented pattern of state-enforced violence in the country, instantly shattering the lies they are actively peddling.
For some, the Gregorios’ brutal murder was the final toll. For me, the final toll came years ago, when men from the same institution, as the one who shot the Gregorios, murdered four-year-old Skyler Abatayo, Kian delos Santos, and Jee Ick-Joo. For then-PNP Chief and now Senator Bato Dela Rosa, these are unavoidable aspects of their operations. “Shit happens,” he famously said, as if one innocent person dying is not one death too many. The president went as far as offering blanket immunity for cops who, according to him, are just doing their jobs. In their words and actions, the architects of this culture of impunity have revealed their utter disregard for human life.
Enumerating the names of those who have fallen victim to police violence would take too much space in the limited constraints of a column. I leave the collective remembrances to the better future ahead. The least we can do now is to work towards the future when gun-toting men would not dare wave their firearms around to instill fear—when the police are actually policed and the culture of impunity that allows them to get away with murder is no more.
No amount of “swift and thorough” investigation can make up for the fact that the PNP is a morally bankrupt institution that traces its roots to the Spanish-era Guardia Civil—made famous by Rizal in El Filibusterismo for torturing Tarsilo to death—and its American Period counterpart, the Constabulary, whose initial purpose was to quell the Filipino independence movement. Then and now, the police have been staunch allies of the ruling class, completely convinced of the false equivalence between securing public safety and preserving the status quo that thrives on the misery of the majority.
Some will say that the police need reforming now more than ever. For them, this is the perfect opportunity to cleanse the organization of so-called scalawags and scoundrels. But doing so misses the point entirely: The PNP is hopelessly irredeemable. By being the foot soldiers of this regime’s one-sided war against its own people, cops have tied their fate to their equally bloodthirsty commander-in-chief, who, if justice is allowed to run its course, will answer for his crimes against humanity in the near future.
It is clear that the president who goads the police to commit these blatant atrocities must go. No amount of mental gymnastics can discount the fact that Duterte has lit and actively kindled the flames of violence razing through the country. But Duterte is just one part of a system that privileges people with guns over the public they are supposed to serve. Genuine change demands that this system, too, be dismantled by counteracting the increase and militarization of the police force and instead, addressing the root causes of crime like poverty and the lack of social services. But change will not happen by itself.
It is easy to lose heart under this atmosphere of death gripping our nation. Despite this, we have to place our hope that there is indeed a better tomorrow waiting for us, and join the people working to get us there. And if the journey requires our warm bodies out on the streets in collective action, then we shall see each other there. ●
*Taken from Psalm 139, a prayer of deliverance from the wicked.
The article was first published online on December 22, 2020.
Feb 10, 2024
Wala akong hangad na angkinin ang oras mo. Bakit ko naman gagawin iyon, kung sa mga kwento mo tungkol sa iyong pagkilos ay nakikita kitang masaya, nabubuhayan ng loob na magpatuloy at magpakahusay.
Feb 10, 2024
Bago maiahon ni Jimenez sa nais na katanyagan ang UP, esensyal na masigurong nakalapat muna ang kanyang pamumuno sa pagtugon sa kagyat na kahingian ng mga sektor ng pamantasan.