Philippine Lawmakers Push for Police Reform After Tarlac Shooting

Philippine Lawmakers Push for Police Reform After Tarlac Shooting
Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images

What you need to know

After a Filipino mother and her son were fatally shot by an off-duty policemen, Philippine lawmakers are calling for an investigation into the case and demanding police reform.

MANILA, Philippines - Police Senior Master Sergeant Jonel Nuezca made headlines when he shot dead at point-blank range Sonya Gregorio and her son Frank in Tarlac province on December 20. The incident sparked public outrage, with lawmakers and netizens calling to restore capital punishment and pass a police reform bill.

After Frank Anthony Gregorio, 25, fired an improvised cannon locally called boga, a homemade noisemaker popular during New Year celebrations, the off-duty policeman tried to arrest him. His mother Sonya, 52, intervened. She can be seen in a footage hugging her son, desperately trying to protect him.

A video of the shooting incident has been making the rounds online. Amid the heated squabble, the cop recklessly shot both the Gregorios in their heads a few times in front of his young daughter. He and his daughter fled after the shooting as nothing had happened.

It turned out that the two families have had a history of dispute over a right of way that ended in bloodshed. Shortly after the shooting incident, lawmakers in both the House of Representatives and the Senate called for legislative probes and an investigation into the case of police brutality.

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Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images
The family of mother and son Sonya and Frank Anthony Gregorio, who were shot and killed by an off-duty police officer, mourn over their caskets at their funeral, in Paniqui, Tarlac province, Philippines, December 27, 2020.

Anti-Crime and Terrorism Community Involvement and Support Partylist (ACT-CIS) Chief of Staff Atty. Garreth Tungol said in an interview that an effective police reform bill must cover two aspects to deter police violence: prevention and prosecution. 

For prevention, the bill proposes to raise the requirements to enter a police force  and retain the status of a police officer. Prospective police officers are required to take psychological exams during the application process, but this does not mean that all of them can handle high-stress situations.

The police force must be trained in the de-escalation process. The cops must only rely on their weapons when the de-escalation method fails or when their lives are in clear danger. It is noteworthy that the Gregorios were unarmed when SMSgt. Nuezca fatally shot them.

In addition, the police training course must focus more on relevant laws such as the principle of self-defense and the grounds for warrantless arrests. The cops must also be required to master Book 2 of the Revised Penal Code that “focuses on the definition and elements of a crime.”

“It is appalling to see that most policemen have a lack of legal knowledge when it is them that we rely on to enforce said laws. There is a systemic problem of illegal arrests or attempts to make an illegal arrest committed by our police force,” Atty. Tungol told The News Lens. “It is during these acts of illegal arrest that a civilian who knows his or her rights usually gets seriously injured or tortured just so the police can have their way.”

As for prosecution, Atty. Tungol explained that the bill proposes that the National Police Commission (NAPOLCOM) must initiate a criminal prosecution before filing an administrative proceeding should a cop commits a crime. It means that the case will be litigated outside the police power.

Even if the criminal court reaches an acquittal, the evidence collected for the case would still help in the administrative proceeding. Atty. Tungol added that our “law allows this and the continuation of the administrative case even after acquittal does not put into double-jeopardy of the person accused.”

SMSgt. Nuezca, newly charged with two counts of murder, has committed several crimes prior to the Tarlac shooting. These include refusal of a random drug test, failure to attend a court hearing as a witness in a drug case, homicide, and grave misconduct. Yet, he still gets away with these crimes for lack of substantial evidence.

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Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images
Police personnel carry the casket of Sonya Gregorio, who were shot and killed by an off-duty police officer, on the day of her and her son Frank Anthony Gregorio’s funeral, in Paniqui, Tarlac province, Philippines, December 27, 2020.

Nuezca’s repeated acquittal, according to Atty. Tungol, is proof of how ineffective the administrative procedures are.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) said that this is an isolated case — that Nuezca does not represent the entire police force. The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) refuted this claim, saying that the PNP only seeks to strengthen the long-standing culture of impunity in its ranks.

CHR Commissioner Karen Dumpit said in an interview that this is not the first time that cops committed atrocities. She urged the PNP to acknowledge their mistakes.

In the wake of the shooting incident, former PNP Chief Ronald dela Rosa said that the erring cop deserves the death penalty. Dela Rosa, now a senator, has previously filed a bill seeking the reinstitution of capital punishment. Senators Manny Pacquiao, Bong Revilla, and Congressman Pantaleon Alvarez also share the same sentiments.

But Atty. Tungol opposes the death penalty as it does not serve both purposes: punitive (to punish) and reformative (to reform). He said that only politicians pose to be “hard on crime.”

Many believe capital punishment is the ultimate punishment, but it will only shorten the suffering. If people really want the culprit to be punished, Atty. Tungol said that life-imprisonment without parole should serve the purpose.

He also said that a criminal’s death does not repair the damage he caused. He describes the death penalty as a “barbaric and shallow” mindset that lowers the status of the state to that of the criminal. 

“True punishment lies in the fact that the criminal will live their lives out in a cell with other criminals. Compared to a life behind bars, the death penalty might as well be a vacation,” he added.

Meanwhile, President Rodrigo Duterte condemned the killing and told the PNP to keep the rogue cop in jail. “You do it right, I’m with you. You do it wrong, and there will be hell to pay,” he said.


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TNL Editor: Bryan Chou (@thenewslensintl)

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