By Rommel F. Lopez

A screengrab of viral video showing Police Senior Master Sgt. Jonel Nuezca, 46, shooting Sonya Gregorio, 52, and Frank Anthony, 25, on Sunday after a heated argument over the victims’ use of a homemade cannon.  In the center is Nuezca’s 12-year old daughter who was also involved in a verbal tussle with Sonya Gregorio.

Vice President Leni Robredo and several lawmakers, including an international human rights watchdog, condemned the brutal murder of an unarmed mother and her son in Tarlac after a heated argument with their policeman-neighbor.

“There will be those who will lay all blame on the person who pulled the trigger, as if he were not part of a larger architecture of impunity. Despite a clear pattern of brutality and a string of cases that made his propensity for violence apparent, the leadership allowed him to remain in service: May tsapa, may baril,” she said.

A viral video showed Police Senior Master Sgt. Jonel Nuezca, 46, shooting Sonya Gregorio, 52, and Frank Anthony, 25, on Sunday after a heated argument over the victims’ use of a homemade cannon.

Robredo added that there will be forces who will use the incident, “as they have many other incidents before, to divide us.”

“May those who wish to downplay what happened by creating discord among us never succeed in stripping us of our humanity. May we find anchorage in our common human response to these deaths: Kinilabutan tayo, nabasag ang puso natin, mali ito,” she said.

“We are bound in horror, grief, and empathy for Sonya and Frank Gregorio, as we are bound in condemnation of their senseless murders and of the murders of so many innocents over the past years. Kaisa ako sa pagtatrabaho upang magsulong ng mas makataong kultura sa hanay ng pulisya, at sa panawagan ng hustisya para sa mag-inang Gregorio.”

House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, meanwhile, said Nuezca should “not go unpunished” and that public outrage against his cold-blooded murder of the Gregorios was “totally understandable.”

“It is our fervent hope that the circumstances surrounding their deaths are investigated thoroughly and that justice is ultimately served,” Velasco said.

“The culprit, Police Officer Jonel Nuezca, must not go unpunished and that his effective prosecution must be ensured,” he added.

The House Speaker said incident highlights the need for the Philippine National Police (PNP) leadership to remind its ranks on the “proper and responsible use of their weapons and that they should, as much as possible, apply non-violent means at all times.”

“Police officers must be reminded that force and firearms may only be used if other means remain ineffective or without any promise of achieving the intended result,” Velasco said.

Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon said a culture of impunity will continue for as long as police violence and abuses are rewarded instead of punished.

“So long as the culture of impunity exists in the country, and when there is a system that rewards misdeeds instead of punishing them, police abuses and violence will continue,” Drilon said in a statement.

“This is pure evil. That devil who committed an evil act in front of his own daughter deserves to rot in jail… He should spend Christmas and a lifetime in jail,” he added.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan made a similar comment stressing that the Duterte administration must not condone the crime.

“Yan ang resulta kapag kinukunsinti o hindi pinaparusahan ang mga pulis na abusado at tiwali,” Pangilinan said.

“Hihintayin natin ang pagkondena ng Administrasyon sa pangyayari at tiyakin na mapaparusahan sa halip na kinukunsinti o pino-promote pa ang mga tiwali at abusadong pulis,” he said.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who himself was a former chief of the PNP underscored that “leadership plays a major role in the behavior and attitude of the rank and file”

He, however, did not say if he was alluding to the current PNP leadership or Duterte, the PNP’s commander-in-chief.

“Never too late for the PNP to consider applying this policy especially when self-discipline is not exactly a virtue among some policemen,” Lacson said.

Sen. Nancy Binay said there is something “deeply wrong when you have both top cops and rank-and-file who flout the law.”

“Wala nang takot, dahil tila hindi naman na yata sila napaparusahan. Kadalasan napo-promote pa nga.”

Binay also called for an across the board retraining of PNP personnel to reorient them of their duty “to serve and protect” even the lowliest Filipinos, an obvious reference to the PNP’ motto.

Current PNP Chief General Debold Sinas drew public ire when he accepted a birthday bash from his subordinates when he was still Metro Manila police chief back in May when the entire National Capital Region was under a strict quarantine due to the raging coronavirus pandemic.  However, months later, Duterte defended Sinas from the criticisms and even promoted then Major General Sinas to become the PNP’s top cop.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III agreed that the PNP needs to undergo “retraining” and “refreshers on rules including moral reformation”.  Sotto stressed in an interview with ABS-CBN News that his proposal to increase the PNP’s 2021 budget to retrain law enforcers is “badly needed”

“Saan papunta ang lipunan natin (Where is our society headed to) if a law enforcer and father can feel so invincible that he thinks it’s his RIGHT to murder an unarmed mother and her son,” Sen. Risa Hontiveros said in a tweet.

In a separate tweet, she said she filed a Senate resolution urging the Upper Chamber “to seek justice for the victims of unlawful & vigilante killings.”

Senators who signed her resolution include Drilon, Pangilinan, Binay, Richard Gordon, jailed senator and Duterte arch-critic Leila de Lima and Senate president pro tempore Ralph Recto.

“I also challenge the PNP to clean up its ranks. Kung totoong mandato ninyo ang serve & protect, dapat malinis ang PNP at ipakulong ang pulis na dapat ipakulong,” she said.

“One spoiled apple ruins the bunch.”

Six other senators also filed their separate resolution calling to “identify gaps in law enforcement” and break free from a culture of impunity among the police force.

Signatories were Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, Joel Villanueva, Sonny Angara, Nancy Binay, Grace Poe and Sherwin Gatchalian.
The resolution noted that at least fifteen individuals had been killed from July to December, “exacerbated from the fact that justice remains elusive for the victims and their families.”

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, a former chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, condemned the brutal killing in Tarlac but said it is an “isolated incident”

“This is an unfortunate but isolated incident. While there are unfortunate incidents like this, the vast majority of our PNP personnel perform their sworn duties everyday with honor and integrity to protect and serve the people,” he said.

“The sin of Nuezca is not the sin of the entire Philippine National Police,” he added.”We don’t train policemen to be like that,” he said.

However, Human Rights Watch (HRW) deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said the killing was “just the latest incident” of the reality that “many members of the Philippine police are simply out of control.”

“As with many incidents of recent police violence, the killing by Nuezca of Sonya Gregorio and her son Frank was brazen and underscores the impunity that prevails in the Philippines,” Robertson added.

“Countless times, Duterte has excused police misconduct and promised to let them off the hook. 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.