MANILA, Philippines — Reforms in the Philippine National Police's policy surrounding firearms are unnecessary for now, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque claimed, as the recent murders of a mother and her son are an "isolated incident" that the government has vowed to address.
This comes in the wake of the grisly killings in Paniqui, Tarlac over the weekend, a video of which has since gone viral on social media showing Police SMSgt. Jonel Nuezca shooting 52-year-old Sonya Gregorio and her son Frank Anthony Gregorio—both unarmed—at point-blank range during an argument.
"Putangina, gusto mo tapusin na kita ngayon? (Son of a bitch, do you want me to end you right now?)" Nuezca is heard saying in the middle of a heated exchange in the video. He then pulled out a pistol and shot them both in the head.
Speaking at a press briefing on Monday afternoon, Roque said that President Rodrigo Duterte—who has historically defended and even cleared police execs facing controversies—would not protect the policeman who killed two people in Tarlac. He was, however, careful to point out that the officer was not on duty.
"That policeman should be punished…No ifs, no buts. [But] that massacre has nothing to do with police duty. He must be held accountable. By and large, our police are very disciplined," he said. "We condemn what happened in Tarlac. That is not a service-related double murder … That policeman cannot invoke a defense related to his duty that murder."
"Guns are for the protection of the police, they can't use that for personal vendettas. Policy cannot be formulated on the basis of aberrations," Roque also said.
In the ensuing outrage online, social media users opined that policemen were emboldened to use unnecessary force because of Duterte's statements and, according to rights groups, the prevalent culture of impunity and violence.
Under the Duterte administration, crying "isolated incident" has become the national police's go-to line when approaching cases of abuse like the Paniqui murders.
Senators urge 'across-the-board value re-orientation' in PNP
In a statement, Sen. Nancy Binay called for a re-orientation among the national police's ranks in the wake of the incident.
The PNP's own operational procedures, which are public documents available on their website for anyone to access, prohibit the use of excessive force.
"Something is deeply wrong when you have both top cops and rank-and-file who flout the law. There is no more fear, because they do not seem to be punished anymore. Often even promoted," she tweeted in mixed Filipino and English. "It looks as though many of them forget their sacred duty to protect Filipinos."
For his part, Sen. Kiko Pangilinan also said in a statement: "Because there is no punishment for police or senior government officials involved in corruption or abuse of office, they continue to abuse. In addition, the prevailing culture of violence and massacre is the motivation for the police not to be afraid to kill."
Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez (Davao del Norte, 1st District) also said: "We must look at the Philippine National Police (“PNP”) as an institution – now tagged by some as PNP “Pumapatay Ng Pilipino” – and review and reform what is wrong with it."
"Pursuant to this aim, let us also demand that command responsibility be implemented in our police force led by PNP Chief Debold Sinas. If the Chief cannot effectively lead PNP and guide its personnel towards serving and protecting the Filipino people, he should not be PNP Chief at all," he said.
"Failure of leadership is not acceptable. Lives are at risk. The credibility of the police force is in ruins. Reform the PNP or resign."
DOJ: Probable cause to charge killer for two murder counts
Nuezca, who was reportedly assigned to Parañaque City crime laboratory, has since turned himself in to police in Pangasinan and is facing a complaint for double murder. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra also said in a resolution Monday that the Provincial Prosecutor of Tarlac found probable cause to indict Paranaque Police Senior Master Sergeant Jonel Nuezca for two counts of murder.
"Without regard of the respect due the victim… The first shot was made while the victim was embracing her son and the second was made when she already fell on the ground, with said accused's PNP service firearm," the decision filed by assistant provincial prosecutor Manuel Pascua, Jr reads.
As of this post, hashtags calling for an end to police abuse have gone trending on social media, including "#StopTheKillingsPH" and "#PulisAngTerorista," though the PNP itself along with the Department of the Interior and Local Government both assert that the incident is an isolated case—a narrative they often employ after similar cases of violence. — with reports from Kristine Joy Patag and Xave Gregorio
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