How does the Philippine National Police deal with personnel implicated in torture of criminal suspects? Reassignment and anger management training.
That’s the lesson of an incident last month exposed in a cellphone video that has since gone viral that shows a police officer in Metro Manila’s Mandaluyong City repeatedly striking with a rattan stick a man detained for violating curfew. Another police officer stands by without intervening while his colleague beats the seated suspect inside a police station.
Instead of investigating and prosecuting the two officers, Eastern Police District officials reassigned them to the conflict zone in Marawi City, where fighting between government forces and Islamist rebels has raged for more than six weeks. The Eastern Police District also ordered anger and stress management training for some of its patrolmen.
Typically, such abuses – which are commonplace throughout the country – elicit no response at all from the police hierarchy. But even when action is taken, it pretty much misses the point. Abusive law enforcers may be sent to more dangerous assignments, particularly in the restive parts of the southern Philippines, as an informal punishment for violations of police procedure. Senior officers, who are likely well aware of the abuses, go unscathed. This approach fails miserably to address the systemic nature of police torture and helps explain why the official Commission on Human Rights has declared the Philippine National Police the worst human rights violator in the country.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s murderous “war on drugs” has only deepened the lack of accountability for police abuses by providing not only encouragement of serious abuses, but the promise of official protection for murder and other crimes. Human Rights Watch has documented numerous recent instances in which police extrajudicially executed alleged drug users and dealers and then planted evidence or falsified reports to cover up the killings. In April, the Commission on Human Rights raided the Manila District Police Station 1 and found at least a dozen people in a cell hidden behind a bookshelf, suffering in grossly overcrowded conditions. The detainees said the police had arrested them on purported drug charges and held them in the secret cell for a week without notifying their families or lawyers.
Until the Philippine National Police ensures genuine accountability within its ranks, police abuses will continue unabated.