POSTSCRIPT / November 30, 2017 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Duterte can stop EJKs – if he wants

THE HEAD of this column assumes two facts: (1) Extra-judicial killings are still being committed with impunity in our midst, and (2) strong-willed President Rodrigo Duterte can stop these EJKs and their concomitant human rights violations if he wants to.

It is delusional to deny that EJKs are still being committed, and suicidal for President Duterte not to take advantage of his having the political capital and capacity to curb EJKs and human rights violations.

We picked up again the human rights topic after a graphic Reuters report of the police gunslaying on Oct. 11 of three men in a Tondo slum distracted us from the impeachment hearing of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, the MRT-3 mess, and EDSA’s traffic madness.

The compelling report, complete with CCTV footage, came after President Duterte announced his plan to give back to the police the lead role in pursuing his drug drive that was briefly made less lethal by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.

Has propaganda conditioned the public into accepting EJKs as the new normal? Have opinion leaders been overwhelmed by admin trolls unleashed in cyberspace? Have mainstream media been intimidated or co-opted?

Too long have too many of us played blind to the EJK/human rights problem associated with Duterte’s signature anti-narcotics drive. As the Reuters report shows, the killers are still operating with impunity.

The administration is not about to admit having failed to keep its campaign promise to stop crime and the drug menace in three to six months.

But pretending that there are no EJKs and human rights violations only sinks us deeper. Note how brutal police action – Duterte’s purported solution to the narcotic scourge – seems to have become the very perception problem that it is supposed to solve.

• CCTV belies cops’ version of killings

THE REUTERS report on the police killing of three men in Tondo is a compelling documentation of EJK filed Nov. 27 by Clare Baldwin and Andrew R. C. Marshall. For better appreciation, access the video at:

The story, slightly edited to fit space, goes: “Barangay 19, Manila – The police report was clear. Anti-drug officers shot and injured three men in this poor district, then ‘rushed’ them to hospital where they were pronounced dead on arrival.

“But security camera footage obtained by Reuters tells a different story. It shows that police took at least 25 minutes to haul away the men they had shot. The victims show no signs of life; police are seen carrying them by their arms and legs and loading their limp bodies onto pedicabs to take them to hospital.

“The footage casts new doubts on the official accounts of police killings in Duterte’s 17-month war on drugs. A witness said that the men were executed and not, as the police claim, shot in self-defense. Police say they only use deadly force in self-defense, but investigation by Reuters suggests they are summarily executing people.

“The footage not only contradicts the police account of the killings. It also gives further evidence of another drug-war tactic: the disabling of surveillance cameras at crime scenes. In the footage, filmed simultaneously by four cameras, an officer is seen turning the camera capturing the action away from the scene after the shooting.

“Reuters has obtained footage from all four security cameras, each capturing the episode from a different angle. Together, the cameras provide a record of a police operation from start to finish.

“’The operation was legitimate,’ said Santiago Pascual, commander of the station that conducted the raid. Their investigation showed that his officers had followed correct procedure, he said, and witness testimony that they had fired on unarmed men was ‘untrue and unfounded.’

“Police carried out the raid a day after Duterte ordered them to leave anti-drug operations to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency. That was the second time he publicly told the police to stop waging his drug war. The officers in the footage belong to an anti-drug unit from Police Station 2 in Manila.

“The police report said Rolando Campo, 60, sold drugs to an undercover officer, who signaled for back-up. Campo ‘sensed the presence’ of the officers and ordered his associates — Sherwin Bitas, 34, and Ronnie Cerbito, 18 — to fire on them. The police retaliated, leaving the three men ‘fatally wounded,’ the report said.

“But the footage shows Campo chatting with people in the neighborhood minutes before the police arrive, and not, as the report said, selling drugs to an undercover officer.

“Arlene Gibaga, Bitas’ wife, told Reuters that she saw the shooting and the three men were unarmed. ‘We don’t have the money for guns,’ said Gibaga, who has three young children with Bitas. She said her husband didn’t deal drugs.

“Police detained the men in an alley next to her house, she said, and asked her to get Bitas’ ID. When she produced it, said Gibaga, an officer shouted ‘Positive! Positive!’ and the officers fired on Bitas.

“’Don’t do that to my husband!’ she screamed, as the police shot Bitas. ‘I’ll report you! There are CCTV cameras here!’ One of the officers then aimed his gun at Gibaga and ordered her inside, she said.

“The footage doesn’t show the police shooting the three men, but does show an officer appearing to open fire on an unseen target. Campo then falls backwards into the frame, his body hitting the ground. His arms move for a while before resting motionless.

“Less than a minute later, the camera that captured the shooting is put out of action: someone turns it to face the wall. A second camera shows an officer reaching up and turning it away. It’s unclear why he disables the camera only after the shooting.

“Pascual said the camera was averted for a ‘valid security reason’ and to ensure the operation wasn’t compromised. His statement reiterated the police version – that ‘the suspects first drew firearms and shot the operatives,’ who returned fire in self-defense.

“Later that day, at Station 2, Gibaga said officers told her it was useless to complain. ‘It’s the government you’ll be fighting,’ she recalled one officer saying. ‘Don’t get angry at us. We’re just following orders.’”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 30, 2017)

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