(Trigger warning: This article contains disturbing themes such as gun violence, sexual abuse, and harassment.)
The first time I ever witnessed police brutality was around 14 years ago. My family had a habit of watching TV Patrol before eating dinner, and as a kid, I would mindlessly do my homework while the show was on. I didn’t pay much attention to everything, but one specific night, the newscaster disclaimed some very disturbing content. I raised my palms to my face to cover my eyes from the scene, as advised by my parents, but to our surprise, the audio from the news report was far more distressing; it narrated about a man lying naked on the floor with his genitals tied to a rope. The rope was being pulled by a police officer like you would with a string toy. The man screeched and cried in pain as the officer audibly made noises. This was later sensationalized as a “torture” video, shocking millions of Filipinos, and traumatizing me as a little kid.
Recently, Jemboy Baltazar was shot by the Navotas police after being “mistaken” as a suspect while cleaning their fishing boat by the shore; 15-year-old John Francis Ompad was also killed by an enraged police officer just last August 20; and a retired cop was caught on video physically assaulting a cyclist after a road rage broke out between the two, pulling out a gun right before the cyclist, which could have potentially ended life in the midst of the bustling daytime traffic.
All these happened just within this month, and if the police could do such inhumane acts and get very little repercussions for their actions, this would become a serious threat to our safety and raise concerns about human rights. These men in blue, whom we have been long taught to admire out of respect and honor for their oaths and service to the country, are slowly turning into symbols of fear, abuse, and injustice.
These cases of violence and unjust actions are not rare stories to tell; we had the Kian De Los Santos case last 2017, and as his death approaches its 6th anniversary, the parallels of the situation seem uncanny. Jemboy, John Francis, and all other impunities were all downsized as “mistakes” or “accidents” in an attempt to save face for the police force. Coincidentally, the lives of these minors were stolen due to reckless imprudence and an abuse of power that blatantly manifests how dejected our constitution is when it comes to serving justice.
Police brutality continues to plague our country, and not much can be done about it. Unlawful force rejects the idea of protecting the right to life, which is ironically one of the responsibilities of being a police officer. When situations like these occur, there are common alibis that seem to always appeal to the tastebuds of our failing justice system: ‘closed/sira po kase yung body cam’, ‘sila po kase yung unang nanlaban’, and the never-ending ‘mistaken identity po kase”. Regardless of any excuse, tampering evidence is a quick bail-out before their prison sentences even start.
All these inhumane events have unfolded the term “trigger-happy”, a term coined for readily violent reactions, specifically shooting in the most unjust settings. If this was all in a video game, then it would be enjoyable to watch but to witness this kind of act unfold in actuality, with families mourning, real lives involved, and people protesting for better law enforcement, then being trigger-happy is something we’d never like to see with our police force.
The people who are supposed to care for and protect human rights are the same ones who keep ‘mistaking’ commoners for criminals. What gives me the ick is that the level of incompetence in these incidents simultaneously reveals how excited these cops are to handle a gun while lacking gun safety awareness and forgetting the rules in the police manual. It’s almost like gifting a kid with a toy gun and aiming it at other kids in the playground who are just casually playing for fun. These skills are far worse to ignore when we look at how they act out of whim without acquiring proper and sufficient data and conducting thorough investigations. Guns and violence now become the default when dealing with the slightest bit of inconvenience and aggression, and that is scary.
Lest we forget, the Duterte regime groomed these men in blue with power that perpetrated an ideology of invincibility and impunity, killing innocent commoners to the point where a beggar would get shot after getting accused of selling drugs. This became his administration's biggest flaw, and its effects still reflect this to this day, as we rank as the country with the highest rate of police-related deaths at around 6,000 from 2016 to February 2023. During his time, calling it “defense” was the norm; it was a complacency card that would relieve the cop from any guilt after mistakenly shooting a person. Apologies were not even a major part of their interventions. Rather, refresher courses and assessments were observed to make sure that everything was still in check. But was it all even worth it?
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has expressed major concerns about these killings. One may also argue that this could all rest on the behavioral or psychological aspect of things. But at this point, it's almost instinctive to agree that this is all wrong. Comparatively, this is the new breed of extrajudicial deaths under Marcos' breath, and it's unacceptable. Justice could never be primed if the ones we believe are trained to help us attain it are also the ones breaking the laws they work with. Murderous tactics are always relieved as coincidences, but these words get mixed up as if a teenager did not just die in front of our eyes, as if the country didn’t just get disappointed about another police officer taking advantage of their power.
All the uncertainty of trusting another police officer is granted, especially when you know that justice can still be malleable to fit their needs. With all this in mind, Marcos has to carry the weight that the previous administration has put upon his shoulders. As the commander-in-chief, it's high time to show some guts at this point. If he does not intervene and continues to glorify these so-called “mistakes” as a part of any due process for arresting someone, then it is a legacy he will have to suck up to and get involved in. Will he ever redeem his father’s actions and set a new standard for himself as the unlikely godfather of mercy? Probably not. But with his administration's attempt to curate a meticulous image of a responsible government, he must be keen enough to evaluate the hot waters our police force is currently bathing in, even if it could most unlikely bring back our trust in them.
We should not fear these people clad in blue and badges. They should be the primal people we cling to for safety, not eventual danger. It’s not enough that they make us abide by the law; they must exercise what they preach, and the families of those inflicted deserve accountability. We can’t let them keep sliding behind the same excuses all the time, or else we might not have enough cards to forgive and forget another ‘murder’ ‘mistake’.