POLICEMEN cannot get away with a “I was just following orders” defense when murder and other serious charges such as those in the Ampatuan massacre are filed against them after their involvement in a killing rampage.
The “sagot kita” (“you got my back”) assurance of their commander, boss or benefactor may embolden them or feed their latent killer instincts, but policemen should know that that theatrical backing is no guarantee of protection from suits or extrajudicial retribution.
Policemen should not miss that lesson after seeing several of their brother officers charged with a group of 117 persons in connection with the massacre on Nov. 23, 2009, of 58 individuals, 32 of them members of media, in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao.
With the professionalizing of the Philippine National Police under RA 6975 and its intended insulation from politics, policemen have ceased to be part of the private army of local warlords or, on the national level, of the praetorian guards of a budding autocrat.
Administrative control of the PNP has been entrusted to the National Police Commission with the Interior and Local Government Secretary as ex-officio chairman. Local officials who used to ride herd on the police are now only deputies of the commission.
Favoritism is supposed to have been minimized with RA 6975. A governor now chooses the provincial police director only from three eligible candidates recommended by the PNP regional director.
City and municipal mayors pick their police chiefs only from the five eligibles recommended by the provincial police director, preferably from the same province, city or town. (But some local executives still manage to have their favorites appear on the list of nominees.)
When policemen get into trouble performing tasks for local executives, as what happened in Ampatuan in 2009, they cannot invoke “I am only following orders” because they must obey only the lawful orders of their superiors.
Policemen must pass psychological and other tests that measure their discernment of right or wrong. While in the service, they are also required to train and attend seminars on human rights, and such subjects to better serve and protect their community.
They are supposed to have outgrown traditional politicians whose retarded view is that the men are “my police” who can be deployed anywhere with such megalomaniac orders as: “Go there and you are free to kill everybody. Son of a b***h, start killing there!”
While there is an internal PNP administrative machinery for dealing with comparatively minor infractions, criminal cases involving policemen fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the regular courts. In theory, courts are impervious to political pressure.
There are questions over the nature and extent of the liability of superiors of the policemen who end up facing criminal charges as a consequence of their carrying out instructions of officials who make extravagant assurances of protecting their men.
A total of 62 police personnel were charged in connection with the Ampatuan massacre. While 36 of them were acquitted, 19 were found guilty. Will the Ampatuans, some of whom had also been convicted, be able to get the policemen off the hook?
The patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr., who topped the original list of 117 accused, succumbed to liver cancer in 2015. He was among those who escaped by their demise being handed down a guilty verdict.
Suddenly the clan’s men who had been banking on the promised aid and protection of their patrons found themselves fending for themselves. Some of them were even marked for liquidation by their bosses for knowing too much.
The justice system must be even-handed and thorough. There should be an earnest effort to also hold accountable officials who use policemen (even soldiers and bureaucrats ) to carry out dirty jobs.
The Ampatuan case is a timely takeoff for scrutinizing the system. Let us not exempt the big politicos in Manila who use local warlords and political dynasties for electoral fraud and pressure politics in their areas of influence.
• Our Christmas Tree has a triangular base
LET US break my serious drift with a “Happy Christmas” greeting to our readers who have held on. As we always say, any publication or media platform cannot weather the test of time without its public.
Rummaging through our archives, we found this Postscript in our Christmas edition last year:
Our life’s Christmas Tree stands on a triangular base of faith, hope and charity around which we celebrate such a special day as today, Jesus’ birthday.
We Christians can expect to be blessed with relative peace and equanimity today and most of our days by allowing our minds to be illuminated by faith, our hearts suffused with hope, and our hands guided by charity.
These moral elements are hinged on the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance which we urge fellow Filipinos to pursue and proclaim during these troubled times of our Republic.
This season of grace should remind those holding the levers of government to avoid abuse of power, persecution and corruption – and us citizens to renew our commitment to obey the law and pay correct taxes.
To many of us getting weary denouncing excesses of those holding positions of authority while disdaining accountability, the promise of renewal of Christmas and the coming New Year should recharge our resolve.
Just keep at it while being patient and prayerful. Change comes in cumulative stages. Advent itself is not one big glorious day but a stream of related events.