‘Caught on TV’: Philippines police officer charged over shootings

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has sought to distance himself from alleged abuses by law enforcers under his watch, after a national outcry over the killing of a mother and her son by a police officer, which was captured on video and spread like wildfire on social media.

In a televised address  on Monday night, Duterte said the shootings were “too brutal”, describing the officer involved as having a “mental disorder”, even as a chorus of condemnation erupted and Vice President Leni Robredo – an opposition politician – condemned “a larger architecture of impunity” in the country.

“Don’t include those lunatic cops and soldiers from my affection of the police and the military,” Duterte said in Filipino, swearing that he would make sure the suspect would not be able to get away with his crime.

“I don’t think that you can escape the rigours of justice because it was captured on TV,” he said.

“You do not follow the law, you kill people, then I’m sorry. That is not part of our agreement on how we should do our work,” Duterte added. The president had previously sworn to protect law enforcers from prosecution.

Shock and anger quickly spread after Police Senior Master Sergeant Jonel Nuezca shot 52-year-old Sonya Gregorio at point-blank range as she tried to shield her son, Frank, who was also killed. Nuezca’s young daughter witnessed the shootings.

The incident on Sunday afternoon, in Tarlac province north of Metro Manila, was caught on video and shared thousands of times on different social media platforms overnight, dominated headlines in the Philippines.

The suspect later turned himself in to authorities and police said on Monday afternoon that he had been charged with the murder of the mother and son.

‘Clear pattern of brutality’

On Monday night, Robredo, the vice president said that despite “a clear pattern of brutality and a string of cases” committed by the officer involved, “the leadership allowed him to remain in service.” The officer involved was also accused of committing homicide in 2019.

She said that blame could not just be pointed “on the person who pulled the trigger” but the “bigger structure” that allowed such killings to happen.

“We are bound in horror, grief, and empathy for Sonya and Frank Gregorio, as we are bound in condemnation of their senseless murders and of the murders of so many innocents over the past years.”

Duterte’s comments about the killings being “caught on TV”, also drew flak, with netizens questioning the lack of action taken over alleged police involvement in several past incidents that were not captured on camera.

Opposition Senator Leila de Lima, who is in prison for what her supporters say are made-up drug charges, condemned Duterte saying he had “no credibility” on police brutality.

“This is the very fruit of the poisonous culture of death he managed to implant in our society.”

Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano condemned the killings, but defended the police as an institution, calling the incident as “unfortunate but isolated”.

The United Nations Human Rights Commission, however, noted in June that Duterte’s comments about killings in the country “may have incited violence and may have had the effect of encouraging, backing or even ordering human rights violations with impunity”.

The Philippine Commission on Human Rights said the latest killings were “brazen and senseless”, and called for an investigation into the incident.

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