by Phylicia Abary
Image: Brandon Fike/Flickr
We serve and protect. Bold words with such heavy weight and significance, used as the motto of individuals who swore oaths to serve the Filipino.
All men and women serving under the Philippine National Police (PNP) have one obligation: to ensure the safety of the masses. If anything, their motto sums up their duty quite well. Apart from this, as the chief body for the enforcement of the Philippine law and constitution, they must perform their duty under the bounds of the decalogue that governs the nation. As advocates of peace and order, it would be a shame if the group has a lapse in conduct that tarnishes their already soiled reputation.
In 1991 the PNP was established after a change in constitution was made following the EDSA People Power Revolution. Republic Act No. 6975 was signed on the 13th of December, 1990, and took effect on the 1st of January the following year. This was done to change the police force from one marred by the abusive orders and beliefs of a dictator to one “national in scope and civilian in character.” The establishment of the PNP marked the beginning of a symbolic shift of intentions: the people for the people.
The saying ‘history repeats itself’ is horrible in its irony, especially considering how the country hasn’t even completely left its dark past. As observed in recent times, the PNP has committed several missteps and oversights, severe in their repercussions and collateral damage. President Duterte’s administration has only encouraged this behavior, stating “Do your duty and if in the process you kill 1,000 persons because you were doing your duty, I will protect you, (Gloria, 2020)”. This statement begs the question of how he can ensure that they have killed under the bounds of duty, when thousands of lives continue to be mistreated and lost under their watch.
Children view them as heroes. They grow up, are exposed to the extended society, are educated, and abandon the notion. They begin to be critical of the administration that allows the PNP to get away with their horrible misconduct. They are heard. They are silenced.
The PNP have lost their integrity and owe it to their countrymen to put a stop to such unjust and blatant abuse of power.
War on the People: a Surge in PNP Abuse, Brutality, and Killings
There have been multiple criticisms of President Duterte and his administration regarding the way he has chosen to address the crimes in the Philippines, specifically those related to drugs and terrorism. Since his inauguration in 2016, he has placed importance on the ‘War on Drugs’, a movement against the possession, use, and distribution of illegal narcotics in the country. Seeing as the PNP are the chief body for law enforcement in the country, they have been on the forefront of this ‘war’ and dealing with the suspects.
This would not be an issue if the way they chose to apprehend these individuals was not in violation of basic human rights.
In December of 2016, the war on drugs had already amassed around 5,927 confirmed deaths (Alfaro & Roberts, 2016). 2,086 deaths came from police operations. The president had only taken office in June of the same year, and yet he had already expressly allowed the PNP to forcefully apprehend suspects despite the lack of proof that they were indeed in possession of drugs. Duterte has also specifically ordered and encouraged them to ‘shoot to kill’ (Amnesty International UK, 2020).
In some cases, there were no warrants of arrest given towards those whose property were stormed by police under the guise of the President’s awful war on drugs. Most of their leads have not been conducive due to extensive and reputable findings, using “…unverified, anonymous tips.” (Pazzibugan, 2020). Several officers have cited personal defense for the shooting and subsequent deaths of suspects, however these claims have garnered inquiry due to the doubt behind them.
Despite the dubious events, the administration has not done any express modification to the proceedings in order to stem (or at the very least, lower) the possibility of such killings to happen again. From over 2,000 deaths, a total of 5,810 deaths linked to official operations under the war on drugs have been recorded in July of 2020 (Marquez, 2020). It is devastating how the numbers continue to rise, as well as how many more deaths may have gone undocumented (read: How the Duterte government underreports drug war killings).
This war on drugs, however, is not the only reason as to why the PNP have become a force to be feared and doubted. There have also been numerous cases of various and severe injustices with members of the PNP primarily linked to them.
An example of this is the killings of Sonya and her son Frank Gregorio by former Police Senior Master Sergeant Jonel Nuezca. Nuezca shot the two to death at point-blank range after an altercation despite the mother and son being unarmed (Ranada, 2020).
Fairly recently, the PNP have also ruled Christine Dacera’s death as a rape-slay case, despite the lack of decisive evidence (Talabong, “What We Know so Far: The Death of Christine Dacera”). This has resulted in the order for further investigation from Prosecutor Bolina-Santillan, who has also included freeing the three detained suspects in her resolution (Talabong, “Makati Prosecutor Orders 3 Suspects in Dacera Case Freed”).
To those who wish to read more on the matter, a more extensive list on other such cases can be found here: List of PNP & AFP’s Abuses, Brutality, Impunity and Human Rights Violations.
Due to the severity of these occurrences, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights has called the launch of a probe into the extrajudicial killings in the country (Deutsche Welle, 2020).
Even those who enforce the law can and will completely step over its bounds, especially when the country’s president has allowed (and even encouraged) such actions. There is no reason to wonder why Filipinos have been loudly expressed their critical views on these officials, as they have strayed far from their mission: “To enforce the law, to prevent and control crimes, to maintain peace and order, and to ensure public safety and internal security with the active support of the community.”
Threatening into Silence: Refusing the Country’s Future of their Academic Freedom
The Philippines is no stranger to student activism. In fact, student activism has spanned hundreds of years in the country, evidenced by how students would use the knowledge taught to them in order to fight against the inequities in society (Santos, 2020).
The UP-DND accord has been abrogated. This was made public knowledge on the 18th of January 2021, three days after the letter from Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana detailing its abatement was sent to UP President Danilo Concepcion.
It was signed in 1989 between the University of the Philippines (UP) and the Department of National Defense (DND) and entailed that state forces were required to send prior notice before entering any of UP’s campuses. This ensured that proper procedure be followed before any student, teacher, or staff would be searched, arrested, or detained, and that the state could not interfere with the university’s constituents during any form of peaceful protest or expressions of dissent (VERA FILES, 2021).
The aforementioned accord was set in place following the 1982 Soto-Enrile accord. This assured the university students’ protection from state forces that aimed to silence protest and dissent against the Marcos dictatorship (Magsambol, 2021). Now that the UP-DND accord has been rescinded, the students’ (and by extension, all the university’s constituents) safety and academic freedom are being threatened yet again.
Many have denounced the abrogation due to the underlying message sent through its execution. Academic freedom is what allows students —the youth of the country, it’s very future— “…[T]o study, and pursue knowledge and research without unreasonable interference or restriction from law, institutional regulations, or public pressure” (“Academic Freedom, 2019”). This also entails that any form of peaceful protest or demonstration be respected by the authorities.
Vice-President Leni Robredo has spoken on the issue, saying that “…[T]his is not a practical gesture, but a symbolic one, one designed to sow fear. One designed to discourage dissent. One designed to discourage criticism,” (The Inquirer Staff, 2021).
Despite the clear threat posed, students from universities and colleges all over the Philippines have fought back and condemned the abrogation of the accord. Clear demonstrations of unity with the UP students, faculty, and staff have been seen through the various statements and output created by the realization that this event was not simply geared towards UP, but also towards all who decide to stray and disagree with the ideologies of the authority.
It can be seen that these acts, as well as the continued abuses and neglect of the PNP, pose a real and terrifying threat to the academics. No one is stranger to how the first enforced disappearances under abusive administrations are always often students, professors, or staff. The Marcos regime in particular is solid proof of this: 1,996 individuals were reported to have fallen victim to enforced disappearance, primarily composed of “activists, farmers, members of labor unions, and students.” (Gavilan, 2018). Even the cases that have been documented have not yet received the justice they deserve. Many more remain undocumented.
‘Red Tagging’ has also been prevalent in the past year, wherein the NTF-ELCAC (National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict) would target youth and/or cause oriented organizations (CNN Philippines Staff, 2020). The NTF-ELCAC is backed by the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which was passed with vague claims to target and lessen terrorist acts in the country. Many of those involved in youth initiatives are now even more cautious about who they should believe in. They continue to work for the betterment of the country knowing that they could possibly befall the hands of the authorities they could never trust (read: CHR says recent activist killings prove dangers of red-tagging).
Continue Forward: Betterment Before Fear
The PNP was established in order to aid in the cause of presenting a new beginning for the Philippines – a body of law enforcement that would protect and serve the Filipino. Despite the flowery words they have used, their written purpose is nothing other than a banner statement. It is essential for us to inquire whether or not they live by the pledges they swore during their oath takings, and hold them accountable for what they have done. While it seems as if accountability has lost its weight due to how vague and surface-level it appears to be, we cannot deny ourselves at least a step forward in the right direction.
The abrogation of the UP-DND accord, paired with the abuse of power of the PNP, as well as the red tagging happening in the Philippines points towards how the administration is desperate to subdue those who refuse to defer to their twisted concept of justice and leadership.
It is in the country’s best interests that its people not forget what it was forged upon. Ours was a country built by the convictions of the youth that we now call heroes. We can only hope that those who swore to protect us remember their oaths, and demand that they remember that at the very least, no amount of false power or security will ever change the fact that all Filipinos deserve justice and equity.
The future of the country refuses to fear. They will serve and protect the country even if the youth have never had an official motto, anyway.