Harsher punishment for trigger-happy cops sought

Rodaliza Baltazar, the mother of minor Jemboy Baltazar, turns emotional as she looks at her son’s dead body during his funeral in Barangay Kaunlaran, Navotas City on August 11, 2023. — PHILIPPINE STAR/ERNIE PENAREDONDO

By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

A SENATOR on Tuesday sought harsher criminal and administrative penalties for “trigger-happy and abusive” cops who violate protocol.

“The Philippine National Police (PNP) needs to answer many questions about operational lapses or loopholes during their police operations,” Senator Ana Theresia Hontiveros-Baraquel told a Senate hearing investigating the killing of 17-year-old teen Jerhode Baltazar.

Six Navotas policemen shot and killed the teenager on Aug. 2 after he was mistaken for a suspect in a previous shooting incident.

“We should not forget that the lives of our countrymen rest on the proper implementation of the PNP’s processes,” she said.

The government should punish cops who violate basic protocol to address impunity in the country, Maria Kristina C. Conti, secretary of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Metro Manila and legal counsel of several drug war victims, said in an e-mail.

“In many cases, law enforcement officers have shown overzealousness just to meet targets, forgoing quality, violating procedure and even manufacturing scenarios,” she said. “The abuse of the processes to unduly persecute [suspects] cannot go uninvestigated or unpunished. “

During the hearing, Ms. Hontiveros-Baraquel cited one of the policemen in contempt for lying about former Navotas police chief Colonel Allan B. Umipig failing to order a paraffin test after the shooting incident.

The police officer’s claim was refuted by three other policemen and Mr. Umipig, who was relieved from his post on Aug. 15 over the incident.

“Many of the officers heard me when I issued the instruction to subject officers in these incidents under paraffin tests as part of PNP’s standard procedure,” Mr. Umipig told senators.

Northern Police District (NPD) chief Brigadier General Rizalito G. Gapas said only ballistic tests were conducted, which showed gunpowder residue in the cops’ guns.

Senator Ronald M. dela Rosa, who was ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s national police chief, told the hearing whistles and batons should be brought back as part of police uniforms, citing the need for a nonlethal approach to law enforcement.

“You don’t have whistles or batons,” he said in Filipino, addressing the policemen involved in the shooting.  “You only have guns which is why police use them immediately since they don’t have any other option.”

“The use of firearms is justified if the offender poses an imminent danger of causing death or injury to the police officer or other persons,” he added.

Ms. Conti said the Commission on Human Rights’ (CHR) willingness to cooperate with the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) probe of Mr. Duterte’s deadly drug war would allow a complete investigation.

“This shows that a comprehensive investigation of the war on drugs will surface from sources other than those under the Executive department,” the human rights lawyer said.

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla has urged CHR to respect the Marcos government’s decision not to rejoin the ICC and allow state investigation of the deadly war on drugs.

The commission has said Mr. Duterte had encouraged a culture of impunity by hindering independent probes and failing to prosecute erring cops.

It said the Marcos government should view the ICC’s probe as an opportunity to show its commitment to punish human rights violators.

Last month, President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. said the Philippines would no longer engage with the ICC after it rejected a plea to suspend its probe of the drug war.

Mr. Remulla earlier said his agency wants to do away with the quota system for police arrests, blaming it for low conviction rates, especially in illegal drug cases. He said he had spoken with national police chief Benjamin C. Acorda, Jr. and his predecessor about removing the quota system for good.

Senator Rafael “Raffy” T. Tulfo earlier called on police to change the neuropsychiatric exams for law enforcers, saying it does not effectively measure a person’s criminal tendencies.

The Philippines has accepted 200 recommendations from the United Nations Human Rights Council, including investigating extralegal killings and protecting journalists and activists.

The government estimates that at least 6,117 suspected drug dealers were killed in police operations. Human rights groups say as many as 30,000 suspects died.

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