A DAY after Police SMS Jonel Nuezca shot and killed two of his neighbors in Paniqui, Tarlac on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, President Rodrigo Duterte, in his weekly briefings streamed via television and social media, examined the policeman and came out with a bewildering diagnosis of one who legally carries a firearm: Nuezca is mentally sick. “May sakit sa utak. Topak.”
A picture of the President looking at the footage of Sunday’s shooting madness from Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go’s mobile phone has gone viral, following the media rounds that the morbid video has itself generated.
That as backdrop and a closer look at Nuezca’s profile will suggest that far more deplorable than the singular broadside of his unstable mind is about a system that is chronically sick. May sakit ang sistema. It is a system that tolerates and allows his kind to thrive as I will later show.
“Isa lang itong klase ng pulis na ito. May sakit sa utak. Topak. (This is a one-of-a-kind policeman with a mental disability.) And I’m just wondering how he was able to nakalusot sa neuro… (pass the neurological examination). T*rantado iyong g*go na iyon. Diba sinabi ko (He’s crazy. Didn’t I tell you), you do it right, I’m with you. You do it wrong there will be hell to pay,” the President said.
He continued, “You do not follow the law, mag-salvage ka, mag-patay ka (if you assassinate someone), then I’m sorry. That is not part of our agreement on how we should do our work.”
The last quote needs to be the standard caption for all commentary on how government should carry out its duty to enforce public order and safety. It not only reassures a country that for years has been gripped by fear ‒ which can turn to outrage after having been poked by Sunday’s madness ‒ over numerous unsolved killings for which the police are duty-bound to address. It also pounds for purposes of clarity on the marching order protocols by which armed agents of government may resort to violence.
But the killings that we see happening all over the place may simply indicate that some law enforcers, after more than four years of an intensified anti-crime campaign, still don’t get it.
And for that reason I have issues with the overall effect of presidential messaging. How we got there can be shown by the text I just quoted. Let me break it down.
First, it is not, “Isa lang itong klaseng pulis,” if what he meant was that Nuezca’s latest transgression was an “isolated case” as statements coming from the hierarchy of the Philippine National Police (PNP) are making it out to be. There is a drug war that claimed thousands of lives of mostly poor suspects; of highly questionable police operations that ended the lives of the likes of 17-year-old Kian de los Santos; of Korean Jee Ick-Joo, who was abducted in October 2016 under the pretext of a drug raid, held for ransom but eventually strangled to death right inside the national police headquarters; or of three-year-old Myka Ulpina about which former PNP chief and now Sen. Ronald de La Rosa would regrettably quip that, “Shit happens.”
The public knows about documented investigative reports that bring to light how some policemen are making money from these killings. There are riding-in-tandem vigilantes, who later would be unmasked as active law enforcers. And there are those who haul in contraband and flip them over as their own merchandise.
So, Nuezca is not, by any means, a symptom of an isolated case. His kind approaches metastasis proportions ‒ that is, their number is bigger than one can imagine ‒ if being sick is rooted in the drive for control and money and is enabled by a culture of impunity.
Second, for one who publicly admitted to having skipped the Reserved Officers Training Course in college on the strength of a false medical certificate, passing neuro exams through fraudulent means should not be a mystery to Mr. Duterte. And then, as in the recruitment for public school teachers, applicants can bribe — outbid other applicants, to be more precise — their way into the police force. (I once had a neighbor who complained of a regional police officer, who failed on a promise for him to secure a spot in the roster of new hires for a fee. The same thing happened to a cousin, who aspired to become a secondary public school teacher. Both of them, by the way, passed the required pencil and paper eligibility examinations.)
Third and finally, more than the despicably dysfunctional screening methods for applicants to the police force, we have a system and subsystems that allow retention of serial offenders. I mentioned “Nuezca’s latest transgression” because it appears he had been charged for various offenses in the past, ranging from neglect of duty to homicide.
PNP records show that about a year ago today, on Dec. 29, 2019, Nuezca was charged with grave misconduct for homicide. Barely months earlier, on May 9, 2019, he was also charged with the same offense. Both cases were reportedly dismissed for “lack of substantial evidence” as if evidence cannot be called evidence if it is not substantial.
In 2016, he was charged for serious neglect of duty for failing to attend a court hearing as a prosecution witness on a drug-related case. This case, according to the PNP report, was eventually dropped and closed. There was no further elaboration on why it was dropped or closed.
In 2014, he was charged for neglect of duty following his refusal to undergo a drug test. He was penalized with suspension for 31 days.
In 2013, he was charged for grave misconduct. This too was eventually dropped and closed.
In 2010, he was suspended for 10 days for a wrongdoing the PNP report did not bother to specify.
Too many offenses to be ignored by a system that is too sick to be able to correct itself. The antibodies have been incapacitated by trojan viruses.
There is a meme in social media that says, “If there are 10 bad cops and 1,000 good cops, but the good cops allow the bad cops to roam freely, [then] there are 1,010 bad cops.”