December 22, 2020 (6:00 PM)

7 min read


Infographic by Joseph Nasser

In a bustling market full of fresh produce and delightful merchandise, street vendors were enjoying their usual activities in peace. This normalcy would only be abruptly interrupted by the sound of gunfire and loud shouting as armed goons came racing across the crowded alleyways. They seemed to be escaping from one lone man with a determined look and a gun clasped between his two hands. It was none other than Cardo Dalisay, who time after time has continued to entertain the Filipino masses with thrilling police action in the hit TV show, “Ang Probinsyano”.

Cops. Law enforcers. Police officers. They are the modern-day knights who’ve sworn to protect innocent civilians while upholding the law. Ordinary people would look up to these stalwart men and women in uniforms who are determined to maintain peace and order within communities. 

However, these ideal figures that we’ve often been accustomed to in shows and movies seem to only be fragments of our imagination of what could have been. On July 24, 2020, a viral video revealed one Police Major Jivertson Pelovello from the Zamboanga City Police pinning down an alleged checkpoint violator on his neck and stepping down on his stomach. 

Pelovello’s case had only drawn comparisons to the infamous George Floyd incident in the United States last June 2020 which led to a series of widespread protests in all 50 states. Soonafter, the rallies extended to Europe, Asia, and so on. 

Another tragic confrontation back in April 2020 had cops in Quezon City firing against Winston Ragos, a former soldier who had been flagged by the military as mentally ill. Ragos reportedly stepped outside of his home to buy cigarettes, but was shot by the police after he had tried to pull something out of his sling bag. According to Winston’s loved ones, he had only carried a water bottle, contrary to a gun which the police had stated. 

This “police brutality” is by no means a novel thing nor is it a localized issue as it far extends into a global scale. In a research paper by Metzger, L. in 2019, the U.S. Legal’s definition of police brutality was used to describe it as “a civil rights violation that occurs when a police officer acts with excessive force by using an amount of force with regards to a civilian that is more than necessary.”

Good cop, bad cop

Cases of police brutality are wide-ranging in the local spheres of the Philippines. In Mindanao, a few of these tales are uncovered as a Filipino civilian, aliased as Jay, has admittedly lost all hope and sympathy for the police due to all the abuses and violence committed by them, here and abroad. 

Looking back at his past experiences many years prior, Jay recounts his grievances against the local police force. Although not directly a victim of police brutality himself, his loved ones fared worse as they were subjugated to abuse and extreme violence by police officers.

“My uncle was once taken and tortured by the Davao City Police. I don’t know the reason for the arrest, but my cousin told me that our uncle was not the same after that event. He became traumatized,” he said.

In another incident, the individual admits that his younger brother was recently arrested by the police. He leans towards the belief that the arrest was illegal because the police failed to present either a search or arrest warrant. Moreover, both the younger brother and his partner were told to stay out of their house as the police had to search for “evidence”. After two hours, the pair stated that the police not only found a pack of shabu, but also stole their belongings and took some money. 

While Jay’s statements may prove that there are police officers  prone to abusing their power and taking justice on their own hands, some other law enforcers are not at all the same. 

On the positive side of things, a General Santos City police officer, aliased as JD, stated that there are cops who are careful not to commit the type of police brutality often seen in videos on social media. Sometimes, they refrain from harming arrested individuals or exerting unnecessary violence in their arrests. However, there comes a time when reasonable force has to be exerted to quell dangerous criminals.

“There was one time naka-arrest kami ng rape suspect. We had that feeling na gusto namin siyang bugbugin dahil sa kanyang ginawa sa mga rape victims, pero kailangan din namin pigilan ang aming sarili kasi may human rights din yun siya,” Officer JD said. 

Ateneo de Davao University (AdDU) professor, Akeem Jade Fabila, finds it highly alarming that police brutality has worsened as of late. He believes that the timing could not have been worse as several world governments are battling a dangerous virus: COVID-19. Despite all these events involving the police, he thinks that all hope is not lost.

“I agree with the phrase, ‘a few bad apples’, which has become a popular phrase among Americans during the massive protests. It should mean that these cases of police brutality are isolated, and they don’t represent the entire police institution,” he stated.

Perversion of justice

Although there are officers who continue to uphold responsible enforcement, many people are still not convinced of the actions of the overall police force. The fact that there are several members of the police force who are corrupt is not only supported by Filipino commonfolk, but also by people in power. 

In early 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte himself called out the police as “corrupt to the core” after anti-drug officers allegedly murdered a businessman hailing from South Korea. 

Moreover, in a 2013 survey by the Global Corruption Barometer of the anti-corruption watchdog, Transparency International, the Philippine National Police (PNP) was ranked as the most corrupt institution in the nation. A whopping 69% of surveyed Filipinos believed that police personnel were corrupt. 

Assistant Professor of the Department of Psychology in AdDU, Hadji Balajadia, shares some of her insights on police brutality. Having experienced an incident of police brutality during her college days, the professor regards the police as “symbols of contradiction” or “frontline abusers”. She notes that the killing of drug addicts or alleged members of the New People’s Army (NPA) are not only publicly endorsed by those in the seats of power, but also supported more shockingly by so many ordinary Filipinos. 

“There is a high incidence of police brutality in the Philippines because of the weak justice system in place. The Internal Affairs Service (IAS) of the PNP even has a long list of cases of police brutality, but so many of them are swept under the rug,” she stated. 

Further noting how highly securitized societies like the USA have so many incidents of police brutality, atrocities committed by the police are not unique in just one or two locations in the world. Balajadia believes that solidarity movements in the form of protests have erupted in many countries as there is now a global pushback against police brutality. She mentions it as a “societal catharsis”, of people having enough of the abuses done by the police. 

“There are ways, however, in which police brutality can be properly addressed or mitigated: extensive value formation and professionalization of the police; strengthening the current justice system; and promoting community vigilance within Filipinos,” she said. 

While Balajadia’s suggestions don’t seem to be easy feats, there is hope that one day the police can finally be held accountable for the injustices they have committed against so many civilians. As police officers are increasingly seen in a negative light by the public eye, perhaps reform is needed to assist them in being once again viewed as individuals who have rightfully sworn to serve and protect innocent lives.

With all the grim incidents involving cops using excessive force and violence even to civilians who don’t pose any threat or harm, the enforcement of justice by the police has become more twisted. Although there is no quick fix to the current issue of wide-scale police brutality, reformation of the police all the way down to values instillation may help mitigate unlawful enforcement of justice in the future. If enforcing justice means having to commit abuses or repressing the rights of innocent people on being treated with dignity and respect, then is it still justice or a perversion of it?

End the silence of the gagged!

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