After Angelus on Maundy Thursday, Darren Manaog Peñaredondo went out from his house in General Trias town in Cavite to buy drinking water.

He  returned home nearly 12 hours later with sore limbs after village guards enforcing curfew hours caught him and brought him to the police station at the municipal hall.

Two days later, he died.

Penaredondo’s story illustrated not only the brutality suffered by ordinary Filipinos in the hands of the police, who took an oath to serve and protect citizens, but the abuse of people in power under Rodrigo Duterte’s rule.

From July 2016 when Duterte assumed office, the rule of law was set aside as he has empowered the law enforcement agencies to threaten, harass and kill poor and ordinary people.

The police are supposed to enforce only laws to maintain law and order, but every member of the law enforcement agency has become a judge and executioner.

In the early days of the Duterte administration, the police were told to run after drug traders, street peddlers and users in the government’s signature “war on drugs” policy.

Five years later, more than 6,000 people were killed in police anti-illegal drugs operations. The narrative of the reports in all police operations was similar — they shot the victims in self-defense when they tried arresting them during a drug sting operation, but the victims resisted.

The justice secretary, in a virtual meeting with the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), said the police had violated all rules and procedures in the conduct of anti-illegal drugs operations. 

But Menardo Guevarra failed to address the issue of why the police have been wantonly violating its own rules and procedures. The blame for the impunity stopped at the law enforcers.

Duterte was never held to account even if he had repeatedly  encouraged the police to “kill, kill, kill” drug suspects. He also promised to protect them from lawsuits.

But he allowed three policemen to hang dry for killing a 17-year-old schoolboy from Caloocan because the evidence and testimony of witnesses were overwhelming against the cops.

That was the first and only among thousands of drug-related killings. Human rights groups believe the body count could be five times higher than what the police had admitted.

The targets of “nanlaban” operations have been expanded to left-wing activists and critics of the administration. Elderly ex-leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) were plucked like autumn leaves, brutally murdered, like Randall Echanis and a couple who were stabbed several times inside their home.

Now, ordinary Filipinos have fallen victims to state forces tasked to enforce quarantine protocols to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), after more than a year into the pandemic.

Peñaredondo was the first victim and, certainly, not the last. 

General Trias has a long history of police brutality. The police nearly killed another man who was caught violating quarantine protocols in May last year.

Like Peñaredondo, he was brought to the municipal police station and was told to do calisthenics as a form of exercise with other men arrested for curfew violations.

But 30-year-old factory worker Ronald Campo was not only made to do jumping jacks and push ups, he was mauled badly that he needed to be hospitalized for bruises, contusions and a fractured skull. Luckily, he survived.

There are countless horror stories of how the police and even the barangay tanod  abused their authority to show the public who’s the boss during the lockdowns.

State control has ruined the economy, one of the fastest growing in the region before the pandemic. Now it ranks among the laggards, beating only Myanmar which plunged into its deepest political and economic crisis after a coup in February.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been rounded up for the slightest infractions of lockdown rules. An ex-soldier with a mental disorder was gunned down in broad daylight at a police roadblock. The police even tried to make it appear the ex-serviceman had a gun and was trying to resist arrest.

An elderly jeepney driver who was trying to earn a living was jailed for several days for an offense that would require detention longer than 24 hours.

If the police are used to killing suspected drug peddlers and left-wing activists, they have been oppressing the people in the guise of preventing the spread of the deadly disease.

The government has not been fair in applying the law. Politicians often get off the hook, like Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III when he went to a hospital with his pregnant wife when he knew he had taken a Covid-19 test, and was later found positive.

The national police chief, Debold Sinas, held a lavish birthday party complete with party tables, alcohol, a buffet and a band, despite strict quarantine protocols.

Both were not punished. Pimentel was cleared from violating a law which was used to imprison and fine hundreds of thousands of people for a minor offense.

These episodes illustrate the injustices and inequality under Duterte’s iron-fisted rule. The rule of law has been disregarded and set aside for the powerful and people close to the Duterte administration. But the laws and even the local ordinances are harsh on ordinary citizens.

They are not only applied unevenly but the provisions of local ordinances vary from city to city and town to town. There are also no uniform rules and penalties.

Thus, there has been confusion in interpreting and enforcing them, giving rise to abuses.

For instance, people caught violating curfews were either reprimanded or fined after a series of offenses. But, they should not be forced to do exercises because there are no local ordinances punishing violators with rigorous physical activities.

Only the courts can impose sanctions or punishments. The police cannot act as prosecutors, judges and executioners. They are not even allowed to collect fines unless deputized.

Clearly, the police officers assigned at General Trias town had no authority to force Peñaredondo to make pumping exercises for violating the curfew hours.

The barangay tanod who accosted Peñaredondo were overzealous in enforcing curfew during early evening hours.

There are still lots of people returning home at that time. If he was buying drinking water, it was an essential item and the barangay tanod should have been more considerate.

But the problem is these people wanted to show authority and the police went beyond their powers by punishing ordinary people.

The coronavirus is not the main problem in the pandemic. It is the people clothed with little authority who use the situation to abuse and oppress the poor, the weak and the marginalized.