Last Monday, I was depositing a week’s worth of dirty clothes at the laundry shop along Panay Avenue, across the building where I lived, when I hear a commotion a couple of doors away.
A few men, who I would later learn in news clips were a mix of barangay tanod and enforcers of a Quezon City Task Force, were approaching a ponytailed man by the nearby water refilling station. The man in question, who was later identified in reports as Michael Rubuia and who had no face mask on, was tall and burly in comparison to the ones advancing toward him.
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I saw the group gesture to each other. “Ayaw sumunod eh!” shouts a tanod in frustration to his fellows. Gripping sticks almost the length of their arms, the men reach their target, and grab at him, attempting to pull him to a waiting van that had the words Task Force Disiplina on its side. The man pulls his arm away, and tries to back off from the tanod, resisting the apprehension.
My cowardly and self-serving survival instincts get the better of both my curiosity, and more humane self, and I stay back, rooted to my spot in front of the laundry shop. “Dapat hindi sila manakit! Kunin mo yung cellphone ko!” says one of the laundry shop personnel, who comes and moves closer to the scuffle.
I turn my head away from what was happening for a moment, but then I hear it—the sound of sticks connecting to flesh. In videos that would later circulate on social media, the man is shown clinging to a metal rail, refusing to be taken away. His arms are then whacked so that he would let go. (In other audio-less clips, the tanod is seen hitting the man in the leg with his stick when he tried to bat away his grasp. Another enforcer is seen pushing him from behind.)
Eventually overcome, the man screams—“wala po akong ginagawa”—and swears, his louder protestations echoing around this short stretch of Barangay South Triangle. His groans are chilling. The next time I dared to look, the man was sitting on the sidewalk with the tanod hovering over him. The beaten, defeated man was cowering and crying, his softer words indiscernible because of the distance I maintained as well as his own tears.
WATCH: QC gov’t personnel seen beating man for alleged quarantine violation. QC City Hall has condemned act, says now investigating incident.— ABS-CBN News (@ABSCBNNews) April 28, 2020
(WARNING: Graphic video) pic.twitter.com/O2VCX200dK
Many, like me, chose to gawk while some whipped out their phones to record what’s happening. Fewer still try to reason with the tanod, particularly the woman from the laundry shop—who continued to record the situation, and whose clip was shared by ABS-CBN News on Twitter—as well as the guard of the complex where the water refilling station was. These two women weren’t ready to let it go.
“Hindi dapat pinapalo nang pinapalo. Kawawa naman. Hindi dapat ganyan,” the woman from the laundry shop says.
“Huwag niyo hong kunsintihin,” one of the tanod counters.
“Hindi namin kinukunsinti… you’re abusing your power. Hindi niyo dapat gulpihin ang isang tao!” the woman angrily retorts, phone in hand and continuing to record.
“Labag ho yun sa community quarantine natin mam! Kung kayo lumagay sa katayuan namin… na may tao na ayaw sumama… Nakikipagtalo pa kayo.”
“Hindi niyo puwede bugbugin. Binubugbog ninyo. Mali! Mali! You’re abusing your power! Wala kayong karapatan manakit!” the woman insists.
“Tao yan!” adds the guard.
Holding both his hands and feet, the enforcers carry the whimpering man like a sack, hoisting him into their van. The tanod cuts the argument off with the women, and rides shotgun. The van then speeds off, careening down Panay.
Today, the Quezon City government released a statement about the incident, reacting to reports of maltreatment. “The City Government shall never condone any acts of violence or violations of human rights, regardless of reason or justification, especially when committed by an official or employee of the City Government or any of the City’s Barangays,” the statement reads. A full blown investigation is being conducted, it promises.
Hours later, the scene continues to repeat and rattle around in my head as I try to go about my day. It was deeply unsettling—adding disappointment and shame to the fear and shock I was already feeling. I thought I was tougher but, as one friend pointed out, when you are unprepared to face or witness violence, it can be jarring.
“Kung kayo nasa katayuan namin,” “Ano gusto niyo gawin namin?”—these are perhaps common rationalizations in the age of “nanlaban.” When faced with resistance, a lack of discipline, and seeming stubbornness, the first and easiest recourse is aggression. In these men’s minds, a show of violent force is what instantly softens unruly behavior to submission. There is apparently no time to be wasted to find an alternative. They are doing their jobs. There is no other way.
I do not know enough of what had happened, who these men are, what the man had done or said during the chaos, to make any real comment other than what have been expressed. It is not yet even clear why he is apprehended in the first place—some say it was because he had no masks, others say it was because he was selling fish illegally by the side of the road. The statement from the QC government only mentioned that he was suspected of “violating Enhanced Community Quarantine protocols.”
Some news reports included interviews of authorities claiming that the man tested positive for drugs, and that this is why he was adamant at not being apprehended. I do not know any of these for sure.
What I do know is that hearing a man howling in pain as he is beaten—even from a distance—stays with you long after the first time you heard it.