PNP defends cop while AFP calls for sobriety, impartial investigation
MANILA – The shooting of a retired soldier who had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in broad daylight has sparked another controversy in the Philippine government’s implementation of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in mainland Luzon as several groups raise legal issues about his killing.
Retired Army Corporal Winston Ragos was shot twice by Police Master Sergeant Daniel Florendo, Jr. on Tuesday, April 21, near a quarantine checkpoint in Barangay Pasong Putik, Quezon City, which led to his death.
WAS RAGOS ARMED?
Based on a police spot report, cops claimed Ragos was carrying a sling bag with a handgun and did not raise his hands when told to. Instead, he allegedly attempted to pull out his firearm inside the sling bag, prompting Florendo to shoot him, hitting him twice in the body.
But Ragos’ sister and witnesses said Ragos was unarmed. CCTV footage showed Ragos throwing away his sling bag before falling to the ground a few seconds after he was shot. In the footage, there was no sign that Ragos had a firearm but police later said a gun was found in his handbag.
One bystander was heard shouting, “Bakit niyo binaril, sir? Dapat kinapkapan niyo muna?”
Human rights lawyer Chel Diokno of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) on Twitter asked: “Was Cpl. Ragos really carrying a firearm in his sling bag? What happened to the sling bag after he was shot? Who took it from the crime scene, searched it, and (allegedly) found the weapon?).”
Quoting the Revised PNP Operations Manual, Diokno said “it should be the investigator-on-case or the Scene-of-the-Crime-Officer, not the operatives involved in the incident, who should take charge of and process the crime scene.”
The latter part of the CCTV footage showed a police officer tossing the sling bag into the police van.
But in the police report, it was Florendo himself, the arresting officer, who allegedly turned over the firearm to investigators – “one caliber 9mm with magazine loaded of (sic) (13) pieces ammunitions/cartridge.”
Police later said on Thursday that they found a loaded caliber 38 revolver in Ragos' bag.
WAS RAGOS COMMITTING A CRIME?
Diokno also questioned what led to the confrontation.
Cops claimed Ragos approached 2 police trainees and told them “Ang sama ng tingin mo, anong problema?” Later, Florendo requested for police back-up.
“What led the police to point their guns at Cpl. Ragos in the first place? Was he committing or attempting to commit a crime at the time? Was he a threat to the lives of the police or other persons in the area?” Diokno asked.
Diokno echoed a statement earlier issued by FLAG expressing concern over the Philippine National Police’s policy of arrests without warning.
FLAG said warrantless arrests may only be made if a person has committed, is committing or attempting to commit a crime; or an offense has just been committed and the arresting officer has personal knowledge that the person to be arrested committed it; or that the person is an escaped prisoner.
The group of human rights lawyers also reminded cops of their obligation to inform the person to be arrested of their authority to make the arrest, their intention and the cause of the arrest, among other requirements under the law.
There was no indication in the video clips if the cops informed him why he was being arrested.
COULD RAGOS HAVE BEEN SUBDUED?
In a video which circulated online, Ragos could be seen stretching his arms with his back to the police for more than a minute.
He was asked to drop to the ground but he instead turned around and asked: “Bakit, anong problema ko sa’yo? Ano’ng problema ko sa’yo,” while stretching both of his hands on a railing before he reached for something on his sling bag.
That was when Florendo fired 2 shots.
“Why did the police officers not subdue him when his back was facing them and his arms were raised? Wouldn’t that have allowed them to restrain Cpl. Ragos without firing a shot?,” Diokno asked.
Rights group Karapatan said, there was a chance to stop Ragos without killing him.
“Footage from the incident clearly show that the police had ample time, opportunity and personnel to de-escalate and even potentially disarm the retired soldier without disproportionately resorting to the use of lethal force; instead, they shot him not only once, but twice,” it said in a statement.
“Nearby residents can be seen trying to stop the police from shooting him and one can even be heard screaming: “Bakit niyo binaril, sir? Dapat kinapkapan niyo muna!” (Why did you shoot him, sir? You should have frisked him first!),” it added.
The Commission on Human Rights, which is investigating the killing, reminded the police about their obligation not to use excessive force under international instruments and even their own operations manual.
“Law enforcement officials, in carrying out their duty, shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms,” CHR spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said in a statement.
If the use of force and firearms is unavoidable, de Guia said, authorities must practice restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense, making sure to minimize harm and injury, respecting the preservation of human life.
Florendo’s superiors have come to his defense.
“P/Msgt Florendo was the only person in the best position to make that judgment call, better than any observer, viewer, and opinionated analyst with 20/20 hindsight,” PNP Spokesperson BGen. Bernard Banac said.
PNP Chief Archie Gamboa also justified Florendo’s actions: “There were a series of warnings and the instruction was very simple, Tagalog pa…”
“Marami na rin kasing namatay na pulis. Actually ang instruction ko talaga ‘wag kayong magpauna. When you are confronted by a person armed with a pistol, its equivalent is also a pistol.”
But several rights groups have expressed doubt if Florendo could claim self-defense, as it requires the element of unlawful aggression on the part of Ragos.
Unlawful aggression refers to an actual, sudden and unexpected attack, or imminent danger thereof, and not merely a threatening or intimidating attitude, according to a 2003 Supreme Court case.
“The person defending himself must have been attacked with actual physical force or with actual use of weapon,” the Court said in People vs. Rubiso, where the Court rejected a self-defense plea.
It cited previous cases where “mere thrusting of one’s hand into his pocket as if for the purpose of drawing a weapon” was not considered unlawful aggression or even the “cocking of a rifle without aiming the firearm at any particular target” was not deemed sufficient to conclude that one’s life was in imminent danger.
“Hence, a threat, even if made with a weapon, or the belief that a person was about to be attacked, is not sufficient. It is necessary that the intent be ostensibly revealed by an act of aggression or by some external acts showing the commencement of actual and material unlawful aggression,” it said.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines, for its part, commiserated with the family of Ragos and said the Interior department and the PNP have assured them of a thorough and impartial investigation.
“We in the AFP agree that the action taken by policeman concerned was his ‘judgment call.’ But as to whether he made the right judgment and whether his actions are appropriate are his alone and does not reflect the PNP as an organization,” AFP spokesperson Edgard Arevalo said in a statement.
Arevalo confirmed Ragos was a former soldier who served in the military for 7 years but who was placed on complete disability discharge due to post-traumatic stress disorder
“Records indicate that he might have acquired his condition in a heavy firefight sometime in 2010 when the detachment he manned was attacked and was nearly subdued,” he explained, disclosing that Ragos was last assigned to the 31IB under the 9ID.
Ragos’s sister had earlier said Ragos acquired PTSD after serving in Marawi.
But Arevalo was quick to point out, they do not want the incident to create animosity between the AFP and the PNP, especially at a time when both organizations are working closely against the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Suffice it to say that there is going to be an investigation and appropriate criminal and administrative charges will be filed and penalties will be meted as may be warranted,” he said.
BLAME ON DUTERTE’S “SHOOT THEM DEAD” ORDER
Karapatan blamed Ragos’ death on the President’s recent statements urging law enforcers to protect themselves if met with resistance by quarantine violators and threatening a martial law-like implementation of the quarantine.
“His killing only goes to show that the President’s ‘shoot them dead’ orders and threats of a martial law-like takeover are not mere exaggerations — we have heard this order in the bloody drug war before. They embolden the military and the police to kill, and the president’s orders translate to dead bodies. ‘Leftist’ or not, anyone — even a retired soldier — can become victims of State fascism,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said.
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers had issued a similar warning, saying the “rule of justice” has never ceased to operate and basic economic, social, political and civil rights cannot be reduced to an enumeration of do’s and don’t’s.
“The lockdown and the pandemic are not the government’s "passes" to sow a reign of terror, cultivate a climate of fear and blind obeisance, and commit human rights violations with impunity,” it said in a statement.
The CHR, meanwhile, urged the government to resort to a humanitarian approach instead of martial law-like enforcement of quarantines.
“As a public health measure, the quarantine rules are still bound by legal standards…Needless to say, fundamental rights remain even as some necessary measures need to be taken,” it said.