Police brutality is a big crime in itself, but inflicting police brutality on innocent victims while allowing the suspects to go scot-free is an even bigger travesty.
That was exactly what happened last Thursday night, when Mandaluyong City policemen chased after a vehicle believed to contain suspects of a shooting incident and opened-fire on it. Initial reports claimed that there was shootout between the law enforcers and the alleged suspects, which left two of the latter dead.
Further clarification revealed that the vehicle actually belonged to the victims of the earlier shooting, and the group were on their way to the emergency room to save a woman who had been shot in the head. The police squad fired at their vehicle, prompting them to stop, and when the driver tried to exit the vehicle to explain to the former that they were innocent more bullets flew their way.
It was a tragic case of mistaken identity, which unfortunately resulted in the death of innocent, unarmed civilians. The servicemen explained that they were fed the wrong information by the barangay tanods (village guards) who initially responded to the earlier shootout, the tanods led them to believe the white-coloured van they pursued carried the suspects rather than the victims.
Yet it begs to be asked why the policemen believed they were justified in firing at the vehicle despite not receiving any gunshots in the first place? Proper protocol for law-enforcement agents should dictate that firearms are only to be used as an equalizer, when the suspects being pursued are also armed with guns themselves.
However, in the encounter between police and the victims the former kept firing at the vehicle despite receiving no gunshots in exchange. Even if the law enforcers apprehended the correct vehicle, they still were not right to use their weapons in such a trigger-happy fashion.
According to the testimony of one of the victims, when they were stopped by the police they were asked to disembark from their vehicle. Due to the injury sustained by Jonalyn Amba-an from the previous shooting, she was unable to exit the van and police started firing. The other people in the van were relentlessly shouting at the police that they were rushing to the hospital, but these pleas were left unheard.
The incident bears striking resemblance to the death of US-man Daniel Shaver, also at the hands of his local police force. Body-cam footage from Arizona Police Officer Mitch Brailsford showed that the 26-year old was on his knees and hands behind his head, yet due to a very minor reaction was fired upon mercilessly by Officer Brailsford.
While the United States have long had a problem with trigger-happy law enforcement, in the Philippines the case of policemen shooting down innocent civilians like 17-year old Kian de los Santos in October is a recent phenomenon. The most plausible cause would be the very liberal attitude of the current head-of-state towards the use of force, President Rodrigo Duterte has in the past declared he will “pardon cops who kill criminals and civilians in the line of duty”. He even gave civilians the ability, carte blanche, to kill individuals they suspect of being criminals – telling the public to “go ahead and kill them yourselves”.
With that kind of mentality towards the use of force, it is no wonder that his enforcers also employ the same trigger-happy attitude in their own line of work. The Mandaluyong Police Department has attempted to rectify the situation by relieving all policemen involved in the incident, but that will not restore the lives of those who undeservedly perished.
What will do some good is if other police departments exercise restraint in the future when pursuing suspects, that might help save innocent lives.