The way Jesse Baltazar held the cold body of his son, Jerhode Jemboy Baltazar, illustrates Michelangelo’s Pieta: A corpse cradled by a parent, howling from the pain of witnessing their child’s life taken by violence.
A few hours prior, Jemboy was just an ordinary teenager having fun on the streets, making plans, and living like there was a tomorrow for him. He was boarding a friend’s boat on August 2 in Navotas when six armed police officers implicated him in an earlier shooting incident. The interaction clearly caused fear for the 17-year-old, causing him to jump overboard while the cops fired at him.
It was later discovered that Jemboy was not the person the police sought. He died from a brain injury sustained during the shooting and eventual drowning. His body had to be fished out of the river by his friends and father.
In a police system that views death as collateral damage, the Philippine National Police (PNP) is the epitome of the culture of violence. Jemboy’s death sculpts the same image of how others killed by the police lost their lives: painful and rooted in long-standing corruption.
The 2023 Police Operational Procedures states that firing a gun is only allowed when a civilian presents an imminent danger. Jemboy, above all things, should have been afforded a verbal warning before being engaged with firearms. At this, the Navotas police failed.
Under Republic Act 8551, the Internal Affairs Services (IAS) of PNP now has authority over this case. The police arm is tasked to look for human rights violations, illegal and dangerous gun discharges, and breaches of police procedures.
Jemboy’s death checks all three, but a larger scheme in PNP is at play.
The police have always been feared for their systemic use of lethal violence. Former President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, for one, was marked by his bloody anti-narcotics campaign. His term was marked by gruesome tales of deaths handed by the police. While there is no official tally, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) believes that the number could be as high as 27,000 deaths, most of whom were believed to be wrongly identified.
All these deaths happen under the guise of the state’s “nanlaban” narrative.
The Supreme Court answered this by requiring the use of body cameras, but faulty equipment always finds its way into the scene. Jemboy, for one, was approached by Navotas cops in full body gear, but their body cams were turned off.
Several stories, including those of Kian delos Santos, Carl Arnaiz, and Jayross Brondial back in 2017, follow the same pattern of narrative. They were falsely identified and killed, their families provided with cash assistance, but their killers were only sanctioned by being transferred to a different station.
The same thing happened to Jemboy’s killers. Earlier today, Navotas PNP Chief Allan Umipig, Jemboy’s killers, and 11 others involved from the base were relieved of their position and will undergo a refresher course. This is because PNP’s top generals, including Umimpig, claim that deaths are simply errors committed in the heat of the moment. But one of Jemboy’s killers, for example, has been relieved for grave misconduct before.
If PNP only reassign cops to a different station or reeducate them, then grave “mistakes” by officers that breed and benefit from the culture of impunity that continue to cost lives are systematically excused. Because if security is the state’s priority, then it will uphold its oath to serve and protect, and mistakes will lead to the submission of its personnel to the courts for impartial judgment.
And while Duterte has left his post, his successor, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., still bears a resemblance in his first year. Gun violence deaths from the PNP are still treated as if it is a natural occurrence, especially when the victims come from marginalized sectors.
This is the culture of the PNP: Make the news dissipate and move on. This is proven by the fact that the police came to the Baltazar’s home and offered money in exchange for suppression of the incident and charges. A chilling acceptance of this culture is brought by the normalization of corruption in the PNP, and how their ranks are becoming irredeemable.
When killers are condoned of their crimes, the perverted policing system continues to trample our rights and freedom. Until their ranks are taught that their actions–especially when it is rooted in the system–will have repercussions, killings perpetrated by state forces will not stop.
In a state that supposedly functions under a democratic framework, the government continues to fail its citizens. For an agency that promises to safeguard the people, the police do nothing but save face–a testament that until a systemic change is placed, the people in blue will never be an ally of the people.
Last week, Jemboy’s mother, an overseas Filipino worker, arrived from Qatar. The family was offered condolences and money from the government. But in the end, thoughts and prayers will not cover the loss that the Baltazars endure. No matter how much cash assistance is afforded to the Baltazars, or how many officials visit Jemboy’s wake, the fact that he will now be talked about in past tense is a loss that the state cannot pay for.
Jemboy is not the first person killed in PNP’s callous operations. Because so long as the state fosters a culture of disregard for human life, its machinations will continue to become mercenaries instead of safe keepers. Unless we remove the inept and anti-human practice of the state forces, more will die.
The fight for accountability continues. But until we pull the problem from the root, Jemboy’s blood will not be the last one shed. ●
Dec 2, 2023
Ang hirap pala kapag ako na ang nakatatanggap ng mga pangungumusta mo, ng mga kwento mo, ng mga ngiti mo.
Dec 2, 2023
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