MANILA: The brutal killing in broad daylight of an unarmed mother and son by a police officer following an altercation over the use of a holiday noisemaker has outraged the Philippines.
The brazen incident, which was caught on video that has since gone viral on social media, has triggered renewed calls to end police brutality in a country where claims of extrajudicial killings of suspected drug dealers by lawmen have been rampant since the start of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration.
In the five-minute video, Police Master Sergeant Jonel Nuezca can be seen confronting his neighbor, Frank Anthony Gregorio, 25, while the latter’s mother, Sonya Gregorio, tightly wraps her arms around her son to hold him back. The incident transpired Sunday, around 5:10 p.m., just outside the residence of the victims at Barangay Cabayaoasan, Paniqui, Tarlac in Central Luzon.
Nuezca, 46, is assigned to the Crime Laboratory of the Parañaque City Police in Metro Manila and was visiting his family in Tarlac.
A witness to the incident, Alyssa Calosing, who also took the footage of the incident, said in a radio interview that prior to the shooting, Nuezca rushed to the house of the victims and confronted Frank Anthony who was intoxicated. During their argument, the policeman allegedly gave Frank Anthony a punch.
Calosing said that’s when they started to panic and she was told to start filming the commotion.
Calosing added that Nuezca, who was in civilian clothes and with a gun in his hand, wanted to arrest Frank Anthony but his mother tried hard to hold him back while other witnesses tried to intervene and plead with the policeman.
About four minutes into the video, Nuezca’s teen daughter approached Sonya and shouted at the elderly woman to “just let go” of her son. Sonya refused and answered that they were within their residence.
The altercation continued before Nuezca cursed Sonya and shot her head at close range. As Sonya fell on the ground, Nuezca turned to Frank Anthony and also shot him at close range twice in the head. The police officer then again turned to Sonya and fired another shot at her.
Calosing added that after shooting the victims, Nuezca took his daughter and they casually walked away from the scene.
Reports said the police officer surrendered on the same day to the police at the neighboring town of Rosales, Pangasinan province.
Police Regional Office 3 chief, Brig. Gen. Val De Leon, said a case of double murder will be filed against Nuezca. He also said in a report that even before the incident, the two parties were already involved in a property right-of-way dispute.
Netizens, human rights groups, lawmakers, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Debold Sinas, former PNP chiefs, and Malacanang strongly condemned the incident
“The grim news today of a police officer in Tarlac, in the northern Philippines, shooting to death a mother and her son over a dispute about the use of holiday noisemaker is just the latest incident to drive home this reality: Many members of the Philippine police are simply out of control,” said Phil Robertson, Asia Director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
He added that 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.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, however, said the twin killings of the mother and son was an isolated incident and vowed to give justice to the victims.
“This is an unfortunate but isolated incident. 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. The sin of Nuezca is not the sin of the entire Philippine National Police. As we have seen during this pandemic, they place their very lives on the line as frontliners in our COVID response,” said Año in a statement.
He added that a formal investigation into the incident has commenced and assured the family and the public that the PNP and the National Police Commission will conduct a thorough, impartial, and swift investigation.
“We do not and will never tolerate such acts and we will make sure that he will account for his crimes,” the Secretary continued, as he called on “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.”
Duterte’s spokesperson, Harry Roque, also assured that there will be justice as he pointed out that there is “evidence of what happened.”
He said: “We are condemning this incident,” adding that it was not service-related, so the officer involved “can not invoke anything about his job as his defense for the killings.”
Sinas said an investigation will also be conducted by the PNP Internal Affairs Service. “I have further directed the IAS to ensure the quick resolution of the summary hearing case against PSSg Huesca for my approval of his immediate dismissal from the service,” he said in a statement.
Former PNP Chief-turned-Senator Panfilo Lacson said: “If what’s on video tells the whole story, I enjoin the PNP leadership to show no mercy. They should spare no effort to make sure that he rots in jail. He’s the last policeman that they need in the force.
“The PNP should always uphold its motto ‘To Serve and Protect.’ That includes taking appropriate steps to protect our people from scalawags in their ranks, whether they are on duty or not.”