Justice

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I WATCHED THE senate hearing on the Jee Ick Joo kidnap-slay case in consternation, as primary suspect SPO3 Ricky Sta. Isabel and his superiors traded accusations. Their statements were disturbing on many levels. After all, these were policemen whom I expected, in their respect for the rule of law, to set the bar for the rest of society.

I was appalled that throughout the proceedings, PNP Chief Bato dela Rosa repeatedly cited Sta. Isabel’s guilt as if it had been judicially established. At one point he even exasperatedly exclaimed, “gustong-gusto ko na sakalin yan (Sta. Isabel),purportedly for single-handedly defacing the image of the PNP. It was obvious dela Rosa had made up his mind about the suspect. He never displayed objectivity, never gave Sta. Isabel the benefit of the doubt, never exercised prudence in his pronouncements, even though as top cop he knows that the accused must be presumed innocent until proven guilty. It is the job of the police to investigate and gather evidence, not to prosecute and render a verdict – this is true at any time, but it is especially inappropriate when the accused has not even been arraigned.

How to trust a PNP Chief who convicts a suspect before he has his day in court?

Not that I necessarily believe Sta. Isabel. I feel, though, that his narrative, while nauseating, deserves scrutiny. It pokes some holes in the AIDG and AKG’s accounts (including the testimonies of the two Dumlaos), and requires a balanced, rational re-assessment of the facts. Given the PNP chief’s arbitrary stance, however, Sta. Isabel might have better chances with the NBI.

That said, Sta. Isabel should be indicted for his part in the crime, whatever it may ultimately be. He admitted that he did not lift a finger to help Mr. Jee whom he saw bound and blindfolded in the vehicle or when Jee was pistol-whipped. He did not alert anyone to the abduction. He did not protest when ordered to dispose of the body. He did not report any of these atrocities, nor did he say anything about a previous incident where a suspect he was cuffing was summarily shot by an officer during a drug raid in Laguna. He narrated these events with no hint of shock or compassion for the victims, and only betrayed annoyance about being inconvenienced by his superiors’ demands. (About the Laguna shooting, he revealed that he was taken by surprise and berated the shooter for putting him in the line of fire. About the dead man, he had nothing much to say.)

In each of these cases, Sta. Isabel weakly explained, “Akala ko po legitimate operation. Wala po akong magagawa. Mga superior ko po sila.” I found especially loathsome his reaction to Superintendent Raphael Dumlao’s alleged order to assassinate Marissa Morquicho: “Wala po akong magagawa dahil officer po yan tsaka lawyer po sya. Alam ko tama ang ginagawa nya dahil lawyer po sya.” 

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SPO3 Ricky Sta. Isabel and PNP Chief Bato dela Rosa. (photo: ABS-CBN News)

By what compass can those instructions be considered remotely acceptable? In what circle of hell does Sta. Isabel operate that he can deem such heinous acts a “legitimate operation”? What constitutes legitimacy for people like him? Or is he a pawn who follows his superiors without moral comment or perturbation? Yet even a vacuous pawn must have a basis for his allegiance – and this is what disturbs me most.

If these criminals cum cops have values at all, they are entirely self-serving and untinged by any virtue, or the nobility that elevates man from beast. They are encrusted with the scabs of barbarity. Morally maimed, they are disfigured, soulless, and without compunction. How can these creatures be allowed to wield their weapons and flaunt their power over us? They are corrupt to the core and deserve to be ejected into the miasma from which they sprang.

Sen. Ping Lacson revealed that the Jee case was not an isolated event, that there have been several related incidents since the onset of Duterte’s war on drugs. Human Rights Watch deputy director Phelim Kine recently stated:

“Philippine police have good reason to believe that they can literally get away with murder. Duterte has pledged effective immunity for police who kill in the name of his drug war. He underscored his own personal contempt for human rights and rule of law on December 12 when he publicly announced that he had personally killed suspected drug users and dealers while mayor of Davao City.”

Kine added that “those given a license to kill will eventually start doing so for personal profit.”

The call of the moment, then, is to defang these empowered, entitled misfits. Lacson’s move to bolster the PNP Academy is a good start to remedy this situation. Better training will hopefully instill a higher regard for the law among PNP cadets. Grace Poe’s proposal for stricter internal sanctions on erring cops is also well-placed. The moral questions posed by Risa Hontiveros, Leila de Lima, and Bam Aquino gave everyone pause and a few uneasy moments for the PNP leadership.

Dela Rosa and his directors proffered many reasons (excuses?) for the “anomaly” and maintained that the force retained its integrity, yet they seemed open and cooperative at the senate inquiry. But if in the long run, they will not make a credible stand against such practices; if they condone instead of condemn these crimes; if they dismiss the growing fears and insist that these are “isolated events,” caring more for their own reputation than our safety, then it is incumbent upon the public to sue them for results. We cannot stay mum, we must insist on justice for Jee Ick Joo and other victims. For our common welfare, we must correct this travesty. True justice is served only when the perpetrators of evil are called to account.

If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

James 4:17

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