PNP chief says alleged police harassment of onion farmer a 'misunderstanding'

Vivienne Gulla, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 23 2023 06:58 PM

Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr. speaks during a press briefing at the PNP Multipurpose hall in Camp Crame in Quezon City on Jan. 5, 2023. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr. speaks during a press briefing at the PNP Multipurpose hall in Camp Crame in Quezon City on Jan. 5, 2023. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Trigger warning: This article mentions suicide.
    
MANILA — The alleged police harassment of a farmer who testified in a Senate probe on soaring onion prices was a “misunderstanding”, Philippine National Police Chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr. said on Monday. 

Azurin said he apologized last week to Pangasinan-based onion grower Merly Gallardo for what he called a “miscommunication.”

Gallardo was among the farmers who told a Senate committee that their lives were getting more difficult due to piling debts. He said traders only bought their produce at a maximum of P20 per kilo, leaving them with huge capital losses. 

But 2 days after she shared their ordeal with senators, policemen allegedly visited her home in Bayambang town 8 times, asking about her late husband who took his own life, as well as 4 other farmers who also reportedly killed themselves. 

"We already explained our side kay Nanay Merlita… I asked for an apology, because there was a miscommunication and misunderstanding on the intent, why pumunta ang ating kapulisan doon. Last week nag-usap kami kay Nanay Merlita… Tinanggap naman po ‘yung apology namin,” Azurin said.

“I don’t see any reason naman bakit natin ie-elevate ‘yun," he said. 

(There was a miscommunication and misunderstanding on the intent, why our police went there. Last week, we talked with Nanay Merlita… Our apology was accepted. I don’t see any reason why we need to elevate that.)

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Azurin said Gallardo had found the first police visit "very unusual" so he instructed the provincial director to assure her that "we don’t mean any harm." 

"Ang atin lang ay nautusan tayo to ask ‘yung sa reason ng pagkamatay ng kanyang asawa at kung kailan namatay,” Azurin added. 

“Ang pinapapirmahan doon is just to affirm na namatay ‘yung kanyang asawa noong 2021 and hindi ngayon na nagkakaroon na ng parang scarcity ng supply ng onions... Ayaw niyang pirmahan, so hindi na namin in-insist,” he continued. 

(We were just instructed to ask the reason and date of her husband's death. We asked her to sign a document saying that her husband died in 2021 and not recently, when there seemed to be a scarcity in the supply of onions. She did not want to sign it, so we did not insist.)

The PNP and the interior department are investigating the incident separately.

Editor's note:

A group in the Philippines is dedicated to addressing those who have suicidal tendencies.

The crisis hotlines of the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation aim to make these individuals feel that someone is ready to listen to them.

These are their hotline numbers:

Information and Crisis Intervention Center
(02) 804-HOPE (4673)
0917-558-HOPE (4673) or (632) 211-4550
0917-852-HOPE (4673) or (632) 964-6876
0917-842-HOPE (4673) or (632) 964-4084

In Touch Crisis Lines:
0917-572-HOPE or (632) 211-1305
(02) 893-7606 (24/7)
(02) 893-7603 (Mon-Fri, 9 am-5 pm)
Globe (63917) 800.1123 or (632) 506.7314
Sun (63922) 893.8944 or (632) 346.8776