Filmed on Video, Cop’s Slaying of 2 Neighbors Shocks Filipinos

Jojo Rinoza and Jeoffrey Maitem
Dagupan and Cotabato, Philippines
2020-12-21
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Filmed on Video, Cop’s Slaying of 2 Neighbors Shocks Filipinos A police officer checks a motorist’s ID at a checkpoint on the first day of the Philippine government’s reimplementation of a stricter lockdown to curb coronavirus-disease infections, in Marikina City, Metro Manila, Aug. 4, 2020.
[Reuters]

Philippine authorities promised Monday there would be “no whitewash” in an investigation into an off-duty policeman accused of shooting dead a mother and her son, in a killing that has angered Filipinos after a video of it went viral online.

The officer, identified as Jonel Nuezca, turned himself in on Sunday after he allegedly shot the victims at close range during an argument earlier in the day, officials said. The victims, both adults, were his neighbors in northern Tarlac province.

“The police regional office three strongly condemns this ruthless incident and I can guarantee that there will be no whitewash in the investigation and any infraction or wrongdoing committed by any member of the PNP will never be tolerated,” regional police chief Brig. Gen. Valeriano de Leon said in a statement.

He assured the public and the family of the victims of their “total commitment that justice will be swiftly given to them.”

Nuezca is facing charges of double homicide, but human rights advocates said the brazenness of the shooting reflected the level of impunity in extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, where President Rodrigo Duterte has publically told policemen to shoot to kill as his administration wages a brutal war on drugs.

During a late-night briefing on Monday, Duterte said the erring police officer should be kept in jail and not be treated any differently that other criminals.

“This guy is sick in the head,” Duterte said of the suspect, adding he had viewed the video of the shooting. What the officer did, he said, was “very unfair and brutal.”

He vowed to protect police officers who were on the right side of the law.

“You do it right, I am with you. You do it wrong, and there will be hell to pay,” the president warned.

He also instructed the leadership of the national police to ensure that the Nuezca remained in jail.

The incident occurred on Sunday after Nuezca allegedly accosted Sonya Gregorio, 52, and her son Frank Anthony Gregorio, 25.

Nuezca was confronting the Gregorios about their use of “boga” – a PVC pipe that is typically used to make a noise during the Christmas holidays here, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said in a statement. The conversation escalated into an argument over a long-simmering dispute about a property right-of-way.

Nuezca’s young daughter later joined the fray, and could be heard shouting at the Gregorios. Her father then drew his handgun – a 9-mm Beretta pistol – and shot both of the Gregorios in the head, the police said.

He later walked away from the crime scene, but surrendered to authorities later in the day.

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A mugshot shows police officer Jonel Nuezca after he surrendered as a suspect in a double-homicide in the northern Philippines, Dec. 20. 2020. [Handout/Paniqui Municipal Police Station]

‘Monsters in our midst’

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said the sin of a rogue police officer should not be attributed to the entire police force.

“While there are unfortunate incidents like this, the vast majority of our personnel perform their sworn duties every day with honor and integrity to protect and serve the people,” Año said.

“The formal investigation into the incident has commenced and we assure the family and the public that the PNP and the National Police Commission will conduct a thorough, impartial, and swift investigation,” Año added.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson – himself a former Philippine National Police chief – condemned the shooting. He called on the police to hold Nuezca accountable.

“I enjoin the Philippine National Police leadership to show no mercy. They should spare no effort to make sure that he rots in jail. He's the last policeman that they need in the force,” the lawmaker said in a statement.

The incident nonetheless, again put a spotlight on the police force.

The killing of the Gregorios “underscores the impunity that prevails in the Philippines,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said in a message posted on Twitter. “It took place in the context of an enabling environment for police violence that President Duterte has encouraged.”

“The video of the incident is distressing to watch, especially since Filipino families are gearing up for the holidays, but, on its face, it provides clear evidence of criminal misconduct by the police officer,” Robertson also said.

“Sunday’s killings in Tarlac province are an inevitable result of the Philippine government’s failure to hold erring law enforcers to account,” he added.

Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of Peoples Lawyers, said extrajudicial killings continue because nobody is being held accountable for them.

“When those who swear to execute the laws goad and inspire law enforcers because of guarantees of impunity and even a pat on the back, you create monsters in our midst ready to go berserk anytime. And then they cry due process for denying due process to others,” Olalia said.

“That is the irony that should not be lost on us.”

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