The killing on Monday of a woman allegedly by a drunken, off-duty police officer has once again put the spotlight on abusive police conduct in the Philippines. The fatal shooting in Quezon City of Lilybeth Valdez, a 52-year-old mother, was caught on video and was disturbingly reminiscent of a December 2020 police killing. The public outcry was swift.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) has vowed to hold accountable the suspect, Police Master Sergeant Hensie Zinampan. Police Chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar promised justice, and publicly berated and manhandled the officer in a video released by the PNP. Various groups have linked the killing to the country’s culture of impunity that has worsened in the past five years under President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs,” in which police and their associates have killed thousands of drug suspects in evident disregard for the law.
The case shows that police accountability may only be possible if the crime is caught on camera. The December incident involved an off-duty police officer who was videoed shooting dead a mother and her son in Tarlac province. And there’s the police murder of Kian delos Santos, currently the only “drug war” killing that resulted in a court conviction, mainly because of CCTV footage showing police dragging the 17-year-old boy to a dark alley where he was later found dead.
These incidents underscore the need for police to wear body cameras with appropriate protocols during operations. The PNP agreed to using body cameras and acquired thousands. But wearing them has not been rolled out because the police claim they still need to develop clear protocols. To prevent video from being manipulated by the police, it will be necessary to prevent officers from being able to turn the cameras on and off at will, and there need to be rules on providing footage to victims and their families, as well as the public.
While cameras alone won’t stop police abuses, they bring a measure of transparency during police operations, particularly in drug raids where the PNP often claims, without evidence, that the victims fought back. The PNP needs to demonstrate they are serious about accountability and start requiring the police to use the cameras. Perhaps then the deaths of Valdez, delos Santos, and others will not be in vain.