We deserve better

Published January 20, 2021, 12:39 AM

by Former Vice President Jejomar C. Binay

GOVERNANCE MATTERS

Former Vice President Jejomar Binay

Society invests so much power in the police and other law enforcement agencies based on an implicit trust that these powers will be wielded responsibly and for the protection of citizens.

When these powers are abused, which we have seen happen with alarming frequency, otherwise law-abiding citizens are deprived of their rights, including the right to due process. They are deprived of their liberties, especially when they are detained without sufficient basis.

The assumption is that policemen, by training and disposition, conduct their investigations professionally and temper the use of the powers given to them by law. This assumption has proven to be sadly misplaced – and the implicit trust betrayed – on many occasions. The case of Christine Dacera is the most recent example.

The circumstances surrounding her untimely and tragic death remains murky more than two weeks after the incident. For this, we only have the Philippine National Police (PNP) to blame.

The PNP chief cannot evade responsibility for this sordid state of affairs. He had prematurely declared that the victim had been raped and the case considered solved. His order for a manhunt was totally irresponsible.

Another police officer, apparently taking his cue from his superior, even dropped broad hints of violence if the individuals resist arrest, invoking the dreaded word “nanlaban.”

These statements fed a  blood lust on social media. But many observers were pointing out glaring lapses in the conduct of the investigation.  And it came as no surprise that, after being charged “provisionally” by the police, three individuals who have been detained were ordered released by the city prosecutor. In her order, the prosecutor cited insufficient evidence to prove that the victim had been raped, her cause of death, and those responsible for the alleged crime. The police were directed to produce more evidence.

Apparently peeved by the ridicule he received after the prosecutor’s order was made public, the PNP chief hastily ordered an investigation into “possible lapses” of the Makati police in their handling of the Dacera case.  On the same day, a senior officer admitted to media that they are “still collating pieces of evidence, especially statements from would-be key witnesses, and we are still awaiting the results from the forensic science being conducted by the Crime Lab.”

It would also be revealed that the three “suspects” were interviewed by the police without the presence of a lawyer and were not read their Miranda rights. An allegation was made that they were threatened and coerced by the police – “psychologically manipulated” was the term used by their lawyer- into saying that drugs were present at the incident.

This should have been a simple case. All the police needed to do was establish the facts before making conclusions. But the police forgot – or ignored – their training, disregarded long-established procedures, and cherry-picked the facts that would fit and support their theory, no matter how convoluted, flimsy, and legally untenable.

What makes this infuriating is that the police fed and stoked the negative social media sentiment directed at both Dacera and her companions. The vicious online bashing was another form of injustice to the victim, and those who were labelled, absent any evidence, rapists. For this, the PNP should also be accountable.

The PNP appears to be sliding deeper into the abyss of ignominy under the present PNP leadership. Extra-judicial killings continue, and abusive behavior is seen as being tolerated if not encouraged. How can one realistically expect the leadership to set a good example when the current PNP chief himself has been widely scorned as a lawbreaker?

It could just be a case of sloppy police work. But then it could also be a desperate attempt to win public approval. But the Dacera case shines, once again, an unflattering light on the PNP’s predisposition to taking shortcuts and  a willingness to discard established procedures to cater to the sentiments of a “mob” even at the expense of due process and basic rights.

The PNP’s inept handling of the Dacera case strikes at the core of the culture within the PNP that cries for real reform. As I have said countless times, we deserve better.

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