“Nanlaban” is a very brutal word.

For more than four years, the Tagalog word for resistance has been used by the Philippine National Police (PNP) to justify the use of force or to shoot another person in self-defense during a law enforcement operation.

In almost all of the PNP’s anti-illegal drugs operations which, more often than not, had resulted in deaths of thousands of drug suspects, police claimed the suspects chose to resist arrest and shoot it out with law enforcers during a sting operation or when arrest and search warrants were served.

In short, “nanlaban.”

The after-operations reports of the police anti-illegal drugs operations were almost identical. The only differences were the names of the drug suspects, the places where it happened and the exact times of the incident.

Sometimes, even the names of the police operatives involved in the operations and the narrative of the incident were almost exactly the same, with only slight variations like the firearms used by the suspects.

But there were instances when the same type of gun with identical serial numbers were used in more than two or three incidents at different parts of the capital region.

Reuters had documented these police operations in a 10-part series of investigative stories that ran for more than 17 months from April 2016 until December 2017, reporting on Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal and bloody war on drugs.

Other international and local news organizations had similar stories, drawing global attention to the country’s human rights situation which was raised during the 43rd and 44th sessions of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, reported to the Council the alarming rights situation in the Philippines, describing it as serious and noting the killings have become “widespread and systematic – and they are ongoing.”

The former president of Chile also said the incitement to violence in the Philippines came directly from the highest levels of government.

“The campaign against illegal drugs is being carried out without due regard for the rule of law, due process and the human rights of people who may be using or selling drugs,” Bachelet said in her report.

“We also found near-total impunity, indicating an unwillingness by the State to hold to account perpetrators of extrajudicial killings. Families of the victims, understandably, feel powerless, with the odds firmly stacked against justice.”

A week before the report, a group of 30 UN experts called on the international community to impose sanctions on individual Filipino officials for their failure to hold state forces and other groups accountable for the killings, asking the International Criminal Court (ICC) to speed up the preliminary examination on complaints against the Philippine popular leader.

The extrajudicial killings are not new in the Philippines.

A generation ago, about 10,000 people were victims of illegal arrests, tortures, killings and disappearances under the iron-fisted regime of dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Journalists then used another term for victims of extrajudicial killings – “salvaging.”

Ironically, the English word has a different meaning. Salvaging means trying to retrieve or preserve something from potential loss or adverse circumstances. Mariners used the term to rescue a disabled ship from loss at sea.

However, in Philippines, salvaging has a different meaning. It was a term used by journalists for the extrajudicial killing of a criminal suspect and sometimes innocent witnesses.

Both “salvaging” and “nanlaban” were used as an extra-legal term to kill a suspected criminal.

But it seems the term “nanlaban” has expanded its meaning as the national police justifies the unnecessary use of violence against another person.

In a recent shooting in Jolo town that resulted in the death of four soldiers – an army major, a captain and two senior enlisted men – from an intelligence unit of the 11th Infantry Division, the police again tried to justify the shooting by officially saying in an initial report that they acted in self-defense.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) retracted after evidence pointed otherwise. Three witnesses, including a soldier who was on a motorcycle trailing the sports utility vehicle of the intelligence team, saw a different story.

There were two CCTV cameras in the area that could establish the true version of the incident. The soldiers were shot without any provocation. One soldier was even using a laptop computer at the back seat of the vehicle when he was shot.

In April, when a police sergeant shot and killed a former army corporal after an altercation at a quarantine checkpoint in Quezon City, the police report also justified the killing by saying the ex-soldier was armed with a handgun and was about to draw the weapon.

But an investigation made by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) disputed the police version of the story, and recommended the filing of charges of murder and fabricating evidence for “planting a gun” on the scene, against the police sergeant.

If the police were blatantly using “nanlaban” as an excuse to shoot soldiers, how much more in “neutralizing’ drug suspects in “buy-bust” operations in Duterte’s war on drugs?

This practice has to stop. Police cannot just make “nanlaban” as an excuse for shooting a suspected criminal or any adversary. It must send back all 200,000 members of the police forces to training in handling firearms as well as review its rules of engagement and manual of police operations.

Before Duterte came to power in 2016, the police force had gained the trust of the people, earning sympathy when 44 members of the Special Action Force (SAF) were killed by Muslim insurgents in Mindanao in 2015.

Do not let the people’s trust and confidence change to hate and fear because of the practice of making up stories of “nanlaban.”

There are many decent and honorable members of police force and they should not allow a few bloodthirsty and trigger-happy police officers tarnish the image of the entire organization.

In the United States, there has been widespread protest against police brutality in dealing with colored suspects and lawmakers and local governments have made calls for wider reforms in policing.

The Philippine National Police does not want this kind of widespread public condemnation. Stop the killing, stop “nanlaban” excuses.