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Duterte: Cop Who Killed Mother And Son In Tarlac Mentally Deranged, Must Stay In Prison

Duterte: Cop Who Killed Mother And Son In Tarlac Mentally Deranged, Must Stay In Prison
A mug shot of Senior Master Sergeant Jonel Nuezca after he surrendered for killing his neighbors Sonya Gregorio and her son Frank Anthony in Paniqui, Tarlac on Dec. 20, 2020 . Photo courtesy of Police Regional Office 3

President Duterte vowed to serve justice to the family of Sonya Gregorio and her son Frank Anthony, who were shot dead by Senior Master Sergeant Jonel Nuezca on Sunday, Dec. 20, after an altercation.

During his talk to the nation on Monday night, Dec. 21, Duterte said a police officer like Nuezca must be sick in the head to do such brutal killings and wondered how he passed the Philippine National Police’s neurological tests.

Isa lang itong klaseng pulis na ‘to. May sakit ito sa utak. Topak. And I was wondering why he was able to --- nakalusot sa neuro. You could detect a person by the way he answers in a --- ‘yung mga tests sa neuro. Taran*** ‘yung g*** na ‘yon,” Duterte noted.

“‘Di ba sinabi ko: You do it right, I’m with you. You do it wrong, and there will be a hell to pay. Iyon ang sinabi ko sa aking SONA (State of the Nation Address),” he said.

Duterte repeated that his order to the policemen was to do their duty to enforce the law and not to do summary executions.

“Your actions must be in accordance with the law. You do not follow the law, mag-salvage ka, magpatay ka diyan, then I’m sorry, that is not part of the agreement of how we should do our work,” Duterte said.

Duterte stressed the police officers know how much he “loves” them but not the ones who are mentally unstable like Nuezca, who he said would not be able to escape justice.

He said Nuezca could not go out on bail as he admitted that he himself was shocked when he saw the senseless killing on television.

“And I am sure that by now, he (Nuezca) should not be allowed to go out because double murder ‘yon eh. Double murder is a serious offense, a grave offense. So from the time you are arrested up to the time that you are haled to court to answer for the death of those two persons, innocent ones, walang bail ka. So ‘pag nahuli ka, diretso-diretso na ‘yan. And I don’t think that you can escape the rigors of justice because nakuha sa TV pati ako napanganga. Kawala-walang kuwenta,” Duterte said.

“You, you…That’s unfair and brutal masyado. Kung ako ang nandiyan ewan ko lang. I don’t know pero…I do not like oppression at ‘yang nag-ano ng tao --- papahirapan niyo ang tao. Usually kasi itong pulis you tend to exhibit your authority even in matters not connected with police work. Iyong mga away-away,” he added. “Ang pagmamahal ko sa trabaho lang natin. You do something which is…out of the ordinary just pulling a gun and shooting people…Eh ikulong ninyo ‘yon. Huwag ninyong bitawan ‘yang y*** na ‘yan.”

The President called on the PNP to make sure that Nuezca is detained.

“He should not be allowed to go out kasi serious offense ‘yan. There’s no bail. So hindi maka-bail ‘yan. Diretso-diretso na ‘yan,” he said.

Public outrage

Based on the video that went viral on social media, Nuezca, 46, was enraged by Frank Anthony’s use of “boga”  or an improvised canon usually made of bamboo or PVC pipe used to make noise during the holiday season.

In the video uploaded by civic organization Kaisa San Rafael, Nuezca was seen confronting Frank Anthony and later on his mother in Barangay Cabayaoasan in Paniqui, Tarlac. The video showed Sonya, 52, pacifying her son when Nuezca's young daughter interfered and shouted at her.

The altercation escalated when Sonya and Nuezca brought up the dispute over their properties’ right of way.

The next scene showed Nuezca shooting the woman when she shouted back at his daughter.  Nuezca shot Frank Anthony, 25, next. Then he fired at the mother again even as she was already slumped on the ground with her son.

Nuezca, who was later found to be a member of the Parañaque City Police Crime Laboratory, fled the scene aboard a motorcycle. Authorities tried to pursue him but at 6:19 p.m. on the same day, he surrendered to police in Rosales, Pangasinan, which is about an hour away from Paniqui, with his 9mm service pistol used in killing the Gregorios.

Prosecutors filed before the Paniqui, Tarlac Regional Trial Court Branch 67on Monday two counts of murder against Nuezca. No bail was recommended for Nuezca in the two charge sheets signed by Tarlac assistant provincial prosecutor Manuel Pascua Jr.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the prosecutor would abide by proper procedure to make sure that there would be a just treatment of the complaint.

“I am disturbed that altercations like that in the subject incident could suddenly lead to deaths of persons… The DOJ will closely monitor developments in this case and ensure that justice is done,” Guevarra confessed. “As soon as the local police has filed the appropriate charges, the Prosecutor’s Office will conduct a preliminary investigation to determine probable cause.”

The video of the incident drew public outrage and revived calls for the reimposition of the death penalty. Even celebrities could not help but express their indignation over what happened.

Calls to end police brutality also trended on social media.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte would not protect Nuezca and that the Palace condemns what happened. He assured the public that Nuezca would be made responsible for the crimes he committed.

Why is he still in service?

The incident also caused backlash against the police force, especially on issues of allowing policemen in plain clothes to carry guns and letting them return to service even if they had faced criminal and administrative charges.

A document from the Central Luzon police showed that Nuezca had been administratively charged for grave misconduct twice for homicide just last year; for neglect of duty for missing a trial in a drug case as a witness in 2016; and for grave misconduct in 2013.

All these charges had been dropped or dismissed due to lack of evidence, save for his 2014 case of serious neglect of duty for refusing to submit himself to a drug test which had him suspended for 31 days.

“All of these cases were dismissed because of lack of evidence and witnesses to pursue the administrative charges,” PNP chief Gen. Debold Sinas told reporters on Monday.

“So most likely, the criminal charges (corresponding to these administrative charges), were also not filed against him,” he said.

Sinas said Nuezca’s charges were dropped and “therefore he has the right to bear firearms” when asked why policemen facing charges were still given assignments. He recognized that these cases could serve as red flags.

“If we have no reason to relieve, detain and disarm our men, even if they have cases, we will not do that. We still observe due process in our procedures here,” the PNP chief added.

Tarlac police chief Col. Renante Cabico said Nuezca was off-duty and had just arrived from Parañaque when the incident occurred.

Why he was able to bring home his firearms, according to Sinas, was because policemen are on “alert 24/7” and can respond to any incidents.

Cabico said cops received the mandate to carry guns from Duterte himself.

“We had a directive from our beloved President before that those who are off-duty––they are allowed to carry their firearms,” Cabico said in an interview over dzBB.

In a speech in 2017, Duterte said he did not favor rules that do not allow police officers to bring their side arms outside the camp or to their houses.

“I will overrule that kind of regulations because it is stupid,” he said in the speech on July 18, 2017, where he also told state security forces to be responsible with their firearms and that they should not use them against innocent civilians.

The PNP said even those who investigated Sinas could be made liable if proven that lapses were committed in deciding the cases of Nuezca.

Roque countered claims that Duterte's rhetoric had emboldened policemen to use unnecessary force against civilians.

"You know, all institutions in our country and in the world have bad eggs. What is clear is our police is admirable. Their capital is their life," the Palace spokesman said.

"I will repeat. The rotten ones are the exceptions. By and large, our policemen are really disciplined," he added.

Anger management program

To prevent such cases from happening again, the best solution that the PNP could think of was to study a new “anger management program” for its men.

“I discussed this with (Camp Crame’s) neuropsychiatrist, we might have a new study on anger management on our people,” Sinas said, explaining that Nuezca seemed “OK, but maybe he just wasn’t able to manage his anger.”

“As a commander, we are angry and saddened. That's why we issued a directive to our commanders to remind our people to hold their anger in situations to prevent these (crimes) from happening,” he added.

Sinas added that Nuezca “showed character” when he surrendered to police.

Isolated case? CHR doesn’t think so

The Department of the Interior and Local Government, which oversees the PNP, said the incident was plain cold murder – “unfortunate but isolated” – as “the sin of Nuezca is not the sin of the entire” police force. 

“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,” DILG Secretary Eduardo Año said in a statement.

He reiterated that what happened was an isolated incident during the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases' meeting with the President on Monday night.

“We wish to remind all police officers to remain calm at all times, to control their emotions, and to conduct themselves in a manner befitting their position as agents of the law,” he added.

But Commission on Human Rights Commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit disputed the claim that the incident in Tarlac was an isolated case as there is currently a culture of killing in the country.

She said this culture is perpetuated because of the inability of the PNP to hold officers accountable for their wrongdoings.

Lawyer Jacqueline Ann de Guia, CHR spokesperson, said in a statement that "such brazen, senseless killing deserves our strongest condemnation.”

“While investigations continue to ascertain the reason for the altercation, no one deserves to be deprived of their life at whim,"  De Guia added. "The police force is expected to be disciplined, discerning, and professional.”

De Guia stressed the PNP ought to live by their motto that they would serve and protect the people. “Each and every police is expected to protect our rights. As such, it is unacceptable when they are the ones being at the forefront of perpetuating such human rights violations," De Guia said, noting this incident should push the PNP to conduct widespread investigations into every allegation of arbitrary killing.

“The government cannot claim adherence to human rights principles and allow impunity to worsen by not making sure perpetrators are held to account," she emphasized.

The CHR, through their Region 3 office, will conduct their own investigation on the incident, De Guia said. "We are interested in knowing the truth behind these deaths because there is a demand for justice."

At the same time, De Guia appealed to the public to put in mind the best interest of the child also seen in the video. “Vilifying the minor publicly, even posting the child's name and photos, may inflict irreparable trauma that might worsen this situation. Let proper interventions deal with the child's situation separately.”

Vice President Leni Robredo also said the culture of impunity must not be lost on the people.

“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,” Robredo pointed out.

Robredo warned the incident would be used “to divide us” to save those who are committing wrondoings from being held accountable.

“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. 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,” Robredo said.

Kaisa ako sa pagtatrabaho upang magsulong ng mas makataong kultura sa hanay ng pulisya, at sa panawagan ng hustisya para sa mag-inang Gregorio,” she added.

The militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), Human Rights Watch and Progressive labor group SENTRO also expressed belief that there is culture of impunity in the country.

“Impunity is when the police think they can do anything, including shoot unarmed civilians at point blank even while cameras and witnesses are present. It's when they show us how human life has very little value nowadays,” Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes said.

“Police brutality and abuse must end. And this must start with the President telling the police to stop the killings . It must start with the President not condoning the killings, the planting of evidence, the filing of trumped-up cases and the official cover-ups,” he added.

Without such action, Reyes said, the President “is very much complicit” and in fact “he is the main driving force, in these abuses. “And he too will be made accountable.”

Human Rights Watch said “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.”

Countless times, the group said, 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.”

SENTRO also said Duterte must be held accountable for the brutal killings of  the Gregorios. "We cannot consider the incident as an isolated event when so many cases of police brutality, murder, and complicity had been recorded before, and especially during the Duterte administration," the labor group noted.

No mercy

Lawmakers also condemned what happened.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon described the killings as “pure evil” and “that devil who committed an evil act in front of his own daughter deserves to rot in jail.”

“I have no words to describe his unspeakable act. He should spend Christmas and a lifetime in jail,” Drilon said, adding “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. Impunity breeds trigger-happy cops.”

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former chief of the PNP chief, enjoined the PNP leadership to show no mercy on Nuezca.

“They should spare no effort to make sure that he rots in jail. He's the last policeman that they need in the force,” Lacson underscored.

As a policy recommendation, Lacson said  policemen should turn in their issued firearms to their unit's armorer or supply officer when on off-duty status. That said, they should not be issued permits to carry firearms outside residence (PTCFOR) while still in the active service.

“Anyway, a case of grave misconduct carries a punishment of dismissal. Apparently, he got away with a number of cases of grave misconduct because the cases were dismissed. ‘Yung refusal niya to undergo drug test and leaving the premises without permission should have prodded PNP or (the National Police Commission) to monitor his activities as he might be a drug user at least,” Lacson added.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros also called for an end to the killings while Sen. Francis  Pangilinan found it outrageous.

“That is the result when the abusive and corrupt policemen are tolerated or not punished. We will wait for the administration to condemn the incident and ensure that the corrupt and abusive police are punished instead of tolerated or refined,” Pangilinan said.

Senators Nancy Binay, Grace Poe, Sonny Angara, Sherwin Gatchalian, Joel Villanueva, and Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri filed Resolution No. 600 calling for an investigation into the series of killings of private citizens including doctors, journalists, lawyers, and other professions.

They said the probe aims to identify “gaps in law enforcement, attaining justice for all victims, and breaking the culture of impunity, especially among law enforcement agencies.”

The senators said in a span of six months or from July to December, at least 15 doctors, lawyers, journalists, and members of other professions were unlawfully killed.

“The series of killings in the past six months of at least 15 people from members of various professions…exacerbated by the fact that justice remains elusive for the victims and their families, highlight the need to launch an inquiry, in aid of legislation, to identify the gaps in law enforcement,” the resolution read.

Speaker Lord Allan Velasco and several members of the House of Representatives also condemned Sunday’s killings in Tarlac.

“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,” the lone Marinduque congressman said.

“The incident also highlights the need for the leadership of the Philippine National Police 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,” Velasco said.

The Speaker said they “share the anguish” of the family of the victims, “especially their young and innocent relatives who, unfortunately, bore witness to the horrific killings.”

“The public outrage over the incident is totally understandable,” Velasco said.

“It is our fervent hope that the circumstances surrounding their deaths are investigated thoroughly and that justice is ultimately served. The culprit…must not go unpunished and that his effective prosecution must be ensured,” he added.

Members of the left-wing Makabayan bloc said under Duterte, the PNP has been transformed into a force to terrorize and repress the people.

“The police are the terrorists! The killings and police brutality must end. Impunity must end. Enough with the normalization of state terrorism,” they declared.

“Justice for all the victims of extrajudicial killings under the Duterte regime!” they said, adding Duterte cannot extricate himself from the brutal murders of the Gregorios. – With Alexis Romero, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Delon Porcalla, Ric Sapnu, Raymund Catindig, Mayen Jaymalin, Paolo Romero, Ramon Efren Lazaro, Evelyn Macairan, Eva Visperas