MANILA - Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Monday condemned the brazen killing of an unarmed mother and son by a police officer in Tarlac province, saying it occurred in an environment that President Rodrigo Duterte has encouraged.
The incident is a result of the government's failure to hold erring law enforcers accountable, the New York-based watchdog said, as the culture of impunity still prevails in the Philippines.
"It took place in the context of an enabling environment for police violence that President Duterte himself has encouraged," HRW deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said in a statement.
"Countless times, Duterte has excused police misconduct and promised to let them off the hook."
For the HRW, the killing is the latest incident that shows "many members of the Philippine police are simply out of control."
"The video of the incident is distressing to watch, especially since Filipino families are gearing up for the holidays, but, on its face, it provides clear evidence of criminal misconduct by the police officer," the group said.
While the Palace has yet to respond on HRW's accusation, Duterte's spokesman said the President doesn't condone wrong acts.
"We will investigate, file charges, try and punish that policeman -- no ifs, not buts. There will be justice because we saw evidence of what happened. The President will not protect that," Harry Roque said in a press briefing.
Duterte has told law enforcers to only use violence when their lives are in danger, he added.
The Philippine National Police (PNP), on its part, described Sunday's killing as an isolated incident.
"In no way will such incident affect the sworn duty of the 221,000 police personnel to serve and protect our people," PNP chief Debold Sinas said in a statement.
Due to a dispute over a holiday noisemaker, Police Senior Master Sgt. Jonel Nuezca shot to death mother and son - Sonya Gregorio, 52, and Frank Anthony Gregorio, 25, - in Paniqui, Tarlac.
The incident was captured on video and went viral on social media, drawing widespread censure, with netizens calling for #StopKillingsInPH.
According to a document obtained by ABS-CBN News, Nuezca, who is assigned at the Parañaque City police crime laboratory, has faced a string of administrative cases in the past.
In 2019, 2 cases of grave misconduct for homicide were filed against the policeman but these were dismissed "for lack of substantial evidence."
He was also accused of serious neglect of duty in 2016 for failing to attend a court hearing as a witness in a drug case.
In 2014, Nuezca was suspended for a month for less grave neglect of duty for refusing to take a drug test.
Swept to power in 2016, Duterte launched his centerpiece anti-narcotics drive that saw thousands of drug suspects killed.
He had promised to protect the police and military involved in the deadly campaign and would not allow anyone to go to jail.
Amid mounting criticism of his war on drugs, Duterte had also said Catholic bishops were better off dead.
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Duterte ordered state forces to shoot quarantine violators dead.