CHR probes cop's shooting of ex-soldier; reminds police of rules on use of force


Posted at Apr 23 2020 02:49 PM | Updated as of Apr 23 2020 02:51 PM

MANILA - The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said Thursday it has started investigation into a police officer's fatal shooting of a former soldier with known mental distress, as it reminded law enforcers of guidelines on the use of force. 

In a statement, CHR spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia cited how there were conflicting versions on Tuesday's shooting of Winston Ragos, a former soldier who was afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder after deployment in the 2018 Marawi siege. 

The shooter, Police Master Sgt. Daniel Florendo Jr., has been placed under the custody of his superiors while undergoing criminal and administrative investigation. He had accosted Ragos over alleged violation of quarantine protocol in Quezon City.

"... [T]here are different accounts of what transpired, including clashing narratives on whether the victim had a pistol in his sling bag, which the police claims as a sign of imminent danger, thus resulting [in] the shooting," De Guia said.

"The Commission on Human Rights is already investigating this matter," she said. 

Police Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, head of Joint Task Force Corona Virus Shield, said the incident was one of "self-defense." Earlier accounts said Florendo asked Ragos several times to yield as the latter was yelling at officers near a quarantine checkpoint. 

Eleazar said Ragos was confirmed to have been carrying a .38-caliber revolver in his sling bag. The former soldier's sister said he was unarmed.

De Guia said it was "most alarming" that while guidelines of the Luzon-wide lockdown, enforced to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), were meant "to protect our right to health and, ultimately, save lives," they now "trigger allegations of human rights violations and, worse, result in any loss of lives." 

"We stress since the start of the implementation of quarantines and lockdowns that law enforcers must always remain respectful of human rights, even in the face of a national health emergency," she said.

"We recognize that law enforcement officials are important in the protection of life, liberty, property, and the security of person... But there are also guidelines set on the use of force that law enforcers must strictly observe," she said. 

De Guia cited UN principles on the use of force and firearms by law enforcers, which advocate the use of "non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms."

"Under the same principles, it was outlined that if the use of force and firearms is unavoidable, then authorities must practice restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense, mindful of minimizing damage and injury and with respect to the preservation of human life," she said. 

The Philippine National Police operational procedure also prohibits the use of excessive force, she said. 

De Guia said the commission was looking forward to the Quezon City Police District's "fair and impartial investigation" of the incident.

"And similar to cases of alleged ’self-defense’ when confronted with imminent danger, we also reiterate our call to allow the rule of law to prevail and let the scrutiny of the proper courts weigh in on the question if the circumstances are justifiable to warrant the shooting, which eventually resulted [in] a death," she said. 

Militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), in a separate statement, called the incident "unacceptable." 

"Hindi tama ang paggamit ng deadly force sa isang sinasabing quarantine violator. Disproportionate use of force, hindi akma ang gamit ng pwersa para sa isang tao na ang sinasabing paglabag ay [sa] quarantine rules," said BAYAN Secretary General Renato Reyes Jr. 

(It is not right to use deadly force on a quarantine violator. It's disproportionate use of force on a person who was said to have violated quarantine rules.)

He said the incident was an offshoot of the President's earlier pronouncement for police to shoot quarantine violators if their lives are in danger. 

Malacañang called this "speculation," saying what the President earlier said had nothing to do with the police officer's actions.