The Long View: Social cleansing


Social cleansing

 / 04:05 AM December 23, 2020

That observer of revolutions, the Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski, famously observed, “When is a crisis reached? When questions arise that can’t be answered.” There is a truism that in our country, the public respects and admires the military, but fears and hates the police. That there is even such a distinction infuriates those who would want the military and police both abolished as upholders of the status quo. But for the wider public, the former are considered professional, even idealistic; the latter, irredeemably abusive and corrupt.

By now you have heard of Sonya and Frank Gregorio, a mother and son liquidated because, videos widely shared tell us, they irritated a neighbor who happened to be a policeman named Jonel Nuezca, who led a posse of sorts to round them up, berate them, and shoot them. Other policemen, like Capt. Jonel Nuezca, who came to the defense of their brother cop after the fact, felt Nuezca should have been accorded more respect by both mother and son. Quite a few citizens, it seems, feel the same way. Buraga ended up relieved from duty, but something makes me suspect he will receive more than one bottle of Fundador from an admiring public for “saying it as it should be.”

I have read many reactions that found the cop’s daughter’s behavior—yelling “My father is a policeman!” even as she ended up a witness to the murders—as most disturbing of all, including the conclusion reached by some, that the father did the shooting to prove to his daughter that he was all-powerful. Others didn’t go as far but tried to pass it off as a case of a cop carried away by emotions or who wasn’t thinking right at the moment. The cop himself blamed his blacking out—“nagdilim ang paningin”—for what happened.

The Secretary of the Interior and Local Governments at first said the right thing: It was cold-blooded murder, inexcusable, and would be investigated and punished—only to muddle things up by trying to insist the Philippine National Police as an institution should not bear the onus for the sins of one cop. His message was muddled because PNP Region 3 Chief Brig. Gen. Val de Leon mentioned that the cop was being investigated for two allegations of murder. It later emerged that these had been resolved in the cop’s favor by the authorities in 2019, but then a review of the cop’s record—ranging from his refusal to undertake a drug test to his participation in “buy-bust operations” that resulted in murder charges—just made the institution squirm all the more from unaccustomed scrutiny in this era of cowed obedience.

The inescapable fact was that there were two videos, one of the cop and others walking to what turned out to be the liquidation site; and the other, of various people, including the cop’s daughter, as the cop berated the victims who each took a bullet in the head. That an off-duty policeman would be in a position to liquidate civilians was, as one newspaper pointed out, due to the President authorizing cops to carry their revolvers even while off-duty, for their protection during the perilous so-called “war on drugs.” So many questions.

The President, pragmatic and experienced old politician that he is, put a stop to the questioning by neatly resolving things. The problem with Nuezca, the President decided, is that he’s crazy. The President even asked, indignantly, how on earth the cop managed to pass his neuropsychological exams. In other words: This is an open-and-shut case, and I, as fiscal in chief, have even identified the fall guys other than this scandalous cop, thank you very much. What followed was the President proving conclusively yet again that beneath his seeming topsy-turvyness, there lies a bedrock consistency: “Haven’t I told you,” he thundered, “you do it right, I’m with you. You do it wrong, there will be hell to pay.”

Just as he did with the cops accused of, and convicted for, the murder of Kian delos Santos, the President has had no qualms throwing the book at policemen who can be said to have committed blunders worse than crimes. The President, who thrives on repetition, has always been clear to his troops: Do what I say, but in the manner I tell you, and you will do well under me. Embarrass me, or put yourself in a situation where we don’t control the narrative, and all bets are off—I will be the first to bury you.

And so he has done, and so he is doing—in a manner that will have his constituents applauding, and his critics divided among themselves on how to respond. It is encouraging that so many are upset over this, but equally damning to see so many excusing this as a kind of social cleansing.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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