Editorial: Yes, body cameras

IT’S obviously too late in the day for House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano to be expressing his apprehensions about the use of body cameras by policemen in anti-illegal drug operations.

“Sa buy-bust napakadelikado eh. If ‘yung pinagbibilhan mo na pusher see na may, ‘di ba if I tell you’re my confidential informant then nakita mo naka-on cellphone ko or meron akong camera dito, all deals are off. But in drug wars ‘di ba may barilan ‘yan, may patayan ‘yan (It’s dangerous during buy-bust operations. If the pusher sees you, if you’re my confidential informant and your cellphone is on or if you have a camera, all deals are off. In drug wars, there’s always shooting, killings),” said Cayetano.

To recall, Congress in 2018 had approved a budget of P334 million for the purchase of 12,000 units of body cameras. It came after the controversial killing of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos, who a Caloocan police claimed resisted arrest. Witnesses, however, said the boy was in a prone position and begging for his life when he was shot in the head.

Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesperson Brigadier General Bernard Banac said the PNP is now ironing out the protocols for the use of body cameras, which are arriving in 2020.

The use of body cameras was currently pushed by Vice Predident Leni Robredo, recently appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte as co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD). She said body cameras are “indispensable,” and can also serve as protection for law enforcement agents who are sometimes sued for doing their jobs.

Robredo has accepted the challenge of Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency Chief Aaron Aquino to see for herself how an actual drug bust happens.

The body cameras come at a time when already there are, according to PDEA records in 2018, over 5,000 persons killed in 115,435 operations since the government’s drug war was launched on July 1, 2016.

Needless to say the law enforcement aspect of the drug war had been emphasized. In the shadows are efforts on rehabilitation and education. Many of the rehabilitation projects had failed for lack of a more holistic approach towards the full recovery of drug dependents.

Killings during anti-drug operations does not necessarily mean violent resistance by suspects. Oftentimes, it indicates sloppy police work, lack of efficiency in intelligence work, among others. But then again, if the police should argue against doubts and speculations, the body cameras can very well document their performance.