OPINION: The Philippine police story: A monument to impunity

Buddy Gomez

Posted at May 05 2017 03:21 AM | Updated as of May 06 2017 03:57 AM

Within the last fortnight, Duterte-era police stories dominated our attention, consequently stirring the people’s growing consciousness and discomfiture with the current dispensation. The world watches over the Philippines, perhaps eager to know how much more abuse the Filipino can suffer and tolerate.

A cursory review of recent Philippine news coverage will include prominently, among others: 

- the revelation by Reuters of “The State-Sponsored Extrajudicial Killings in the Philippines,” a police insiders’ expose; 

- the continuing daily tri-media reportage of the extrajudicial killing victims of our President’s “Drug War"; 

- a very apt TIME Magazine put-down description of Duterte (“I’d be happy to slaughter them!”) which angered his vociferous fanatics;    

- CNN referring to the President as an “admitted killer";   

- the rare commendation of the Commission on Human Rights accorded by Manila’s Police Chief Superintendent Oscar Albayalde for the discovery of a now notorious “secret jail cell,” and,  

- followed immediately by a rebuke by the Philippine National Police Director General Ronald dela Rosa arrogantly countering Albayalde’s expression of thankful salutary admiration for the CHR;     

- the well-received story of a policeman from Catanduanes (PO1 Vincent Tacorda) who resigned in pain because he could no longer abide by the immoral demands (EJKs) of his superiors;   

- Rappler star reporter Patricia Evangelista’s dramatic and vivid reportage, etc. etc.

And, of course, that “secret jail cell” discovered by a Commission on Human Rights (CHR) investigative team a week ago. “CHR followed a tip and found a dozen individuals crouched in a cramped cell, deliberately hidden behind a bookshelf at a police station.” (ABS-CBNnews/May 1).   

The detention cell was worse than a pig sty with detainees treated like animals! It is windowless, dank, dark, unventilated, an unlit ground-level veritable dungeon where detainees eat, defecate, urinate, bathe and sleep all in a very tight enclosed passage way measuring 1 meter by 5 meters. Photos and video shots show the detainees literally packed like sardines in a tin can. And this space abuts a garbage dump separated only by an open iron grill. To repeat, this ground-level dungeon was deliberately hidden behind a bookcase in the Precinct Commander’s office. To some, the scene is graphically reminiscent of  Nazi  camps and Russian gulags, except that, behold!--these had better facilities! 

Reports indicate that the space at one time even held at least twenty individuals all of whom had “no record of arrest and inquest proceedings for the detainees, who alleged that cops held them in the facility for a week, without notifying their families and lawyers.” And were being shaken down for “ransom money” in exchange for their release. 

That “secret jail cell” of Manila’s Police Precinct No. 1 in Tondo District will long be the weeping essence of the Filipino’s inhumanity to his forlorn fellow human being. It is happening, with avowed knowledge and consent, under an unhinged, twisted mindset of a minority-elected President, whose sanity is being questioned by the day by more and more of the righteous and the concerned. It is no wonder that the name “Duterte” dominates Google search results for “psychopath Philippines.”

Duterte has heaped fear and scorn upon those who have courageously pointed out that  the casualties of his drug war are the most indigent and  the very poor in Philippine society, all denizens of the slums. 

To my mind and heart, it is now beyond doubt that Davao City’s’s ex-mayor, President Duterte, accused to have effectively extended to the National Capital Region the murderous expertise of his Davao Death Squad, has indeed rewritten the Philippine saga into one hell of a shameless police story!    

That ‘secret jail cell’ may as well be Duterte’s monument to police impunity!  

Our Police Story

Police stories are crime stories, a very popular television fare. It is therefore normal for themes of these entertainment vehicles to be the police tracking down, investigating and solving crimes of all sorts. Good guys going after the bad guys. Certainly not the police themselves committing crimes. Unfortunately, under the Duterte era, the police are viewed, for the greater part, as the bad guys!

Going by worldwide news about the Philippines, our country is veritably one police story today. In unabating display, the police commit acts that fall under the category of “crimes against humanity.” What captures international attention and indignation is that our minority-elected President Duterte is at the center and the cause of it all. The credible conclusion is that we are witnessing a direct consequence of Duterte’s repeated oratories and promises of protection and rewards. And that these have now inevitably spawned and let loose a culture of impunity among a widening swath in our policedom. No other leader of the Filipino nation has committed such perfidy. Such a curse has never ever been cast upon our grieving nation. 

That “secret jail cell”  has become the latest and most eloquent manifestation of Duterte-induced and inspired police impunity!  

A day after CHR’s discovery, the front page of USA Today, the largest international newspaper, with a daily circulation of “4,139,380” (excluding internet readership by non-paying subscribers) says:   “…discovery of abused prisoners in secret cell in Manila.”  The Associated Press reportage, carried by media subscribers worldwide, was likewise reported in the New York Times, (circulation 2.1 million). Reuters and Agence France Press have been carrying Philippine news as ‘police stories,’ serially for weeks. In fact, since immediately before this President took his oath of office  June 30, 2016. 

The President’s Persona as a Moral Issue

The President’s oath of office unequivocally spells what he swore to.  “I  ……... do solemnly swear that I will  faithfully and conscientiously fulfill my duties ….. to preserve and defend the Constitution, execute its laws, do justice to every man, and consecrate myself to the service of the Nation.”   

The Constitution’s Bill of Rights (Article III) addresses and defines the behavior of the President. It says: “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.”

In unavoidably inevitable and inescapable reference to the circumstances attaining to that ‘secret jail cell’  deliberately hidden behind a bookcase, the Bill of Rights continues in Section 12 which states:  

“1)  Any person under investigation for the commission of an offense shall have the right to be informed of his right to remain silent and to have competent and independent counsel preferably of his own choice. If the person cannot afford the services of counsel, he must be provided with one. These rights cannot be waived except in writing and in the presence of counsel.”   And,

“2)   No torture, violence, threat, intimidation, or any other means which vitiate the free will shall be used against him. Secret detention places, solitary, incommunicado, and other similar forms of detention are prohibited.”

Now, folks, how can the Duterte phalanx of “political prostitutes” in Congress escape our Constitution’s Bill of Rights?  Who is so irredeemably foolish among them as to deny that Duterte’s Drug War  has not now become a quintessential matter of the nation’s conscience? With an impeachment complaint already filed against him, and now highlighted by the discovery of that “secret jail cell,”  the very least that the House of Representatives can do is to have an unrestrained open debate on Duterte!  And let those whose conscience stand unbothered come out and defend him.

By his mind-set, his performance, behavior and utterances , the President has become a national moral issue!    

Ought we “Google search” some more?

(Disclosure: An incumbent Commissioner on Human Rights, Ms. Karen Gomez Dumpit, happens to be my daughter.) 

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.