Editorial: ‘Bloody Sunday’ cops

·3 min read

This is expected: Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Rodolfo Azurin Jr. has issued a statement, saying the law enforcement organiztion will defend the 30 police officers who took part in the simultaneous raids in Calabarzon region in Luzon on Sunday, March 7, 2021 that resulted in the deaths of nine individuals and arrest of four others who were mostly activists.

Not supporting the police officers in their legal battle could demoralize others and it could raise doubts that there were irregularities committed in the raids. To defend the officers means that what they did was within the bounds of the law.

The operations that happened during the time of then PNP chief Debold Sinas became known as “Bloody Sunday.”

After the operations last year, the PNP said the individuals were members of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) disguised as activists. Human rights groups criticized the police, doubting their claim that the activists were armed and had fought back. They said the weapons seized from the activists were planted by the government forces and that the whole operation was part of the crackdown against critics of then President Rodrigo Duterte.

Police launched the raids two days after President Duterte’s pronouncement to “ignore human rights” and “kill” and “finish off” the NPA rebels in armed encounters.

The former president’s words could have emboldened the police officers to carry out the “Bloody Sunday” raids.

Two of the activists who died in the raids were the couple Ana Marie Lemita-Evangelista and Ariel Evangelista. They were reportedly shot and killed in front of their 10-year-old son.

What also made human rights groups describe the raids as a crackdown against government critics was the time when the search warrants were served—it did not happen when the sun was already up, when many neighbors of the activists could also be doing their usual chores. Some of them could have been possible witnesses to the police’s conduct. Instead, the raids happened early in the morning during which most of the neighorbood was asleep.

Now that the murder charges have been filed, a curious citizen could ask: How would the government prosecutors deal with the cases against the police officers? How would they evaluate the pieces of evidence against the respondents who are also public servants? The public should keep watch on them.

Azurin has said the 30 police officers were just performing their duties, and he promised that the PNP will provide legal support to his subordinates.

Aside from defending his personnel, Azurin must also review the PNP’s protocols on serving search warrants and conducting raids. Should it be carried out in the wee hours of the night or morning to avoid suspicions?

During the time of Sinas’ successor, Guillermo Eleazar, the PNP issued a memorandum setting the protocols for the use of body-worn cameras (BWCs) and alternative recording devices (ARDs) in the execution of search and arrest warrants as well as warrantless arrests. Azurin should consider procuring more BWCs and ARDs for police officers involved in field operations. These devices, perhaps, could help ease doubts and criticisms against the organization that has been accused of committing countless human rights violations.