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Cops turned hitmen

October 20, 2016 · 

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As has been made obvious, Philippine National Police Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa is quite the showman. Naturally at ease before the cameras, the top cop comes across as both affable and unflappable, ever ready with a disarming quip or an earnest remark about the government’s touchstone war on drugs and crime. Recently, he came back from Thailand with a longtime, handcuffed fugitive in his physical custody, presenting a blockbuster crime-busting image. Before then, apparently to tease Sen. Leila de Lima who had said that Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre’s accusation that she had profited from drug money was as fake as his hairpiece, Dela Rosa playfully donned a wig.

Given his voluble nature, the PNP chief has stayed strangely silent about the killing last Oct. 9 of anticrime crusader Zenaida Luz in Oriental Mindoro. Luz was murdered by two masked men on a motorcycle, like hundreds of others in the last three months. The killing would have been another statistic in the still-rising riding-tandem deaths, grabbing a headline for a day or two before becoming a cold number, but for a chilling twist: The killers were caught, and they turned out to be cops—the very men President Duterte has authorized, with the full backing of his office, to smash crime, ruthlessly if need be.

Luz was laid to rest on Sunday. Yet neither the PNP chief nor the President has issued a statement on her murder; perhaps the Malacañang communications team is still working on it. That cops, bemedalled ones, can turn out to be a veritable death squad practically confirms the public suspicion that the police are involved in the nationwide summary executions that have appalled even the international community.

The administration and its allies have staunchly denied that charge; even Sen. Dick Gordon, chair of the Senate committee on justice, pooh-poohs the accusation, saying the hearings on the rash of extrajudicial killings have found no state-sanctioned campaign behind EJKs. And yet the President is on voluminous record as egging both the police and the public to kill suspects. And there’s the physical evidence itself: Some 3,700 Filipinos dead and counting, most of them killed in cold blood by shadowy killers who appear to have gotten away by virtue of a permissive environment officially billed as a war on drugs.

The two cops-turned-vigilantes—Senior Insp. Magdaleno Pimentel Jr. and Insp. Markson Almeranez—remain in police custody. Dela Rosa has yet to explain what his men were doing in a bonnet and a mask and becoming the criminals they were sworn to fight—or why they would kill an ally, a recognized anticrime crusader in the community. No police report has touched on the motive, which would presumably lead to bigger revelations. Did the cops kill Luz because she had information that implicated them, and perhaps other colleagues of theirs, in the drug trade? Who gave the go-signal to kill? Who else were in on the rubout? How many more cops are serving as hired killers?

The administration’s continuing denial of involvement in the tide of extrajudicial killings now rings more hollow with the unmasking of two cops-cum-hitmen. Unless the PNP delves into this shocking case with both dispatch and transparency, its credibility will be deeper in the pits, and the rest of the police force at bigger risk of being considered an institution no different from criminal syndicates.

Now is the time for Dela Rosa and the President to show their unforgiving hand: when law enforcers make a mockery of their vaunted anticrime stand by becoming lawbreakers themselves.

The public waits.

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