Maximum or low tolerance? PNP general says shooting of Winston Ragos act of self-defense


MANILA, Philippines – Even as the Philippine National Police (PNP) said it is observing maximum tolerance during the lockdown, one of its top cops said Thursday, April 23, that a policeman acted in self-defense when he shot twice a former soldier who suffered from war shock.

Former private first class Winston Ragos was surrounded by 5 policemen in broad daylight on Tuesday, April 21, when he was shot and killed by Police Master Sergeant Daniel Florendo Jr.

"Sa mga sitwasyon na andiyan yung panganib, eh dalawang bagay lang po yan. Ang buhay mo o ang buhay ng iba kung kinakailangan, pero as much as possible talagang pinapakita natin ang maximum tolerance," said PNP directorial staff chief Lieutenant General Guillermo Eleazar over the government's daily coronavirus briefing on Thursday. (In situations where there is danger, you have to choose two things, your life or the life of another if it comes to that. As much as possible, we practice maximum tolerance.)

While Eleazar said that the PNP will make sure that "no stone is left unturned" in the investigation, the general also said Florendo may have acted on his instinct to defend himself.

"Ang ating PNP po lahat 'yan nagdaan sa training, and because of that sila po ay magiging responsible at accountable sa anumang dapat nilang gawin. 'Yun pong ginawa niya ay masasabi na through his self-defense instinct ang mga pangyayaring 'yun pero 'yun po ay atin pang iimbestigahan,"
 said Eleazar, who is also the chief of the implementing joint task force for the coronavirus crisis law enforcement response.

(Our PNP goes through training, and because of that they are responsible and accountable for their actions. What the cop did is what we can call as a self-defense instinct, but we will investigate that.)

Ragos, who his family said is suffering from war shock, engaged the policemen in a verbal tussle when he was apprehended for being outside his home during lockdown. 

Video showed that as Ragos reached inside his sling bag, Florendo Jr shot him twice, killing him. The police said Ragos was found with a pistol, which Ragos' mother Merlyn said may have been planted evidence against her son.

'Shoot them dead'

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the Ragos shooting must not be blamed on President Rodrigo Duterte's earlier "shoot them dead" order.

"Nagkaroon ng sigawan sa panig ng nasawi at nagkaroon ng interpretasyon ang pulis na nung tumalikod ay akalain niya ay dumudukot daw ng baril. Wala pong relasyon ito sa kahit anong sinabi ng Presidente at hindi po sinabi ng pulis na pinatutupad niya po ang isang order ng presidente," Roque said during his briefing Thursday.

(The victim was shouting and the cop had an interpretation that when he turned his back he was going to reach for his gun. This does not have any relation to whatever the President said because the cop didn't say he was enforcing any of the president's orders.)

"So huwag po nating bigyan ng interpretasyon ang bagay na ito na wala namang basehan at all, if at all it is speculation, it is conjecture, it is not factual," said Roque. (Let's not interpret this without basis.)

On April 1, President Rodrigo Duterte said policemen can shoot dead any violator who creates trouble.

"Kapag ginulo at nagkaroon ng okasyon na lumaban at ang buhay niyo ay nalagay sa alanganin, shoot them dead," said Duterte. (If there is trouble or the situation arises that people fight and your lives are on the line, shoot them dead.)

On April 3, Duterte claims he never said "shoot to kill" but he threatened the same thing. "Bumunot ka ng baril, o hampasin mo ang pulis ng bato, barilin mo, patayin mo, 'yan ang batas," said Duterte. (If you reach for your gun, or throw a rock at the cop, shoot him, kill him, that's the law.) 

Nowhere in police manuals and laws are policemen instructed to kill.

If force has to be applied...

The PNP Operational Procedure says the policeman may use their gun if "the offender poses imminent danger of causing death or injury to the police officer or other persons."

The manual adds: "However, one who resorts to self-defense must face a real threat on his life, and the peril sought to be avoided must be actual, imminent and real. Unlawful aggression should be present for self-defense to be considered as a justifying circumstance."

And if force has to be applied, the PNP manual says "only such necessary and reasonable force should be applied as would be sufficient to overcome the resistance put up by the offender; subdue the clear and imminent danger posed by him; or to justify the force/act under the principles of selfdefense, defense of relative, or defense of stranger."

"'Yung sitwasyon na 'yun hindi naman 'yun ang pangkaraniwan, at sinasabi nga natin na may imbestigasyon tayong ginagawa," said Eleazar. (That is an isolated incident, and we said we will have this investigated.)

Arrest without warning

Although he said the PNP would still observe maximum tolerance, Eleazar reiterated that lockdown violators will be arrested without warning.

"Sa ngayon po wala nang babala, aarestuhin na, ofcourse ito pong mga minors na nakikita natin hindi naman po natin puwedeng ikulong, but for others na paulit-ulit, naglaan po tayo ng paglalagayan nila," said Eleazar. (Right now there will be no more warnings, we will arrest immediately, of course we cannot jail minors, but for others who are persistent, we have allotted a detention facility for them.)

Eleazar added: "Para ipakita sa lahat na the presence of the police, kung ito ay nakakatakot sa mga pasaway, so be it, matakot po kayo." (This is to show police presence, and if this is scary for the hard-headed people, so be it, be scared.)

Arresting without warning is illegal and unconstitutional, said the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG).

In a statement on Thursday, FLAG said arrests without warning disregard "the carefully calibrated general rule and exceptions in Rule 113 of the Rules of Criminal Procedure and creates a new rule on arrests, which is not allowed by the Constitution."

FLAG cited a past Supreme Court decision that says even arrests over violation of Article 151 of the Revised Penal Code, or disobedience to authority, has to have a prior warning. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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