IT’S like this: The persons arrested in the Oct. 19 robbery at J Centre Mall in Mandue City would’ve been charged and prosecuted. But four of the suspects were killed while in police custody and, of course, cannot be made to answer the charges anymore.
And some people ask why the police will be investigated by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). That has been a constant source of irritant to citizens who believe the CHR inquiry is making police work more difficult. But that is how the system works. Every suspect is presumed innocent until proven guilty. And even the suspect who by all appearances to the public is guilty, or found later by the court to be guilty, cannot be executed by police or jail guard holding him in custody. There is no death penalty or, at least, it has not yet been officially restored by law. The police or jail guard cannot mete out penalty worse than the prison term meted out by the court. And those four robbery suspects killed after they were arrested (three of them) or during arrest (the fourth one) were not even charged with and convicted of the crime.
Despite the rash of EJKs or extra-judicial killings, in some of which police are suspected of participation or complicity, the PNP still internally operates under a set of regulations. Those rules supposedly assure that the law is complied with and individual rights are respected. Call it a farce, but it is how it is. It assumes that like in any other organization, there can be rogue cops as well.
After each police operation, the PNP Manual of Police Operations (2010 edition) requires investigation and processing of the scene. Any police officer who uses a gun that results in the death of a suspect submits an after-operation report outlining the circumstances of the shooting. An inquest is made by an inquest officer or, if he’s not available, by the police in the territory. Thus, it can be assumed that the procedure was followed after the Bogo wharf encounter, which ended up with the killing of one robbery suspect during an alleged shootout and of three others who were already handcuffed but allegedly tried to wrest away the cops’ guns.
The PNP itself has made “death in custody” part of its operations protocol. It must have recognized the reality that execution of crime suspects can happen and has happened.
Not just for example-setting, reprisal, or just for the heck of it. In the case of the Mandaue mall robbery suspects, there was a motive that reared its head only after the loot from the attack on four jewelry shops and one money changer at J Centre was tallied and publicized.
Could the claimed cache of P136 million have been recovered from the suspects who were killed and stashed away by law enforcers? Only some P400,000 in cash was reported as having been recovered. Where are the rest? There were three or four robbers who got away. They must have the bulk of the loot—or the police might have kept it after perpetually silencing the people they arrested. Wild suspicion? Blame those “ninja cops” in Pampanga for the loss of people’s trust in their police.
Suicidal robbers or inept cops
The CHR didn’t need to spot motive to initiate an inquiry. The plain fact was enough: That the crime suspects were killed while they were restrained. Under police procedure—handcuffed or otherwise tied up, for the safety of the suspects and the cops guarding them—it would’ve been idiotic or suicidal for the arrested robbers to make any such attempt, and inept or sloppy for the cops to give them the chance. And “agaw-armas” would only be part of the chain of defense: There would have to be unlawful aggression to qualify as self-defense, defense of relative or defense of stranger. There must have been imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to the police whose firearms were supposedly taken away.
A lot of protection indeed for people who were suspected of brazenly robbing five malls and endangering the lives of innocent civilians who were present during the heist. But it is what the system provides. The alternative could be worse. Not just the apparently guilty but also the truly innocent could be killed by authorities. People with the gun would decide who are deemed suspects and who among citizens would die or live.
The law on due process and agencies such as CHR and the courts seek to restrict and balance the power and might of those who carry the badge and the gun.