Strict measures, such as community lockdowns, were set during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic to protect our right to health and, ultimately, save lives. It is most alarming when these measures trigger allegations of human rights violations and, worse, result in any loss of lives.
On Tuesday, 21 April 2020, a certain Winston Ragos was gunned down by Police Master Sergeant Daniel Florendo Jr near a quarantine checkpoint along Maligaya Drive in Barangay Pasong Putik, Quezon City.
Ragos was later identified as a former soldier who served heroically in Marawi and was said to be suffering from a mental condition because of fulfilling his duty.
We note that the leadership of the Quezon City Police District (QCPD) has already ordered a ‘criminal and administrative investigation’ of the incident and, in a statement, said that what Florendo did was a ‘judgment call.’
However, there are different accounts of what transpired, including clashing narratives on whether the victim had a pistol in his sling bag, which the police claims as a sign of imminent danger, thus resulting in the shooting.
The Commission on Human Rights is already investigating this matter.
We stress since the start of the implementation of quarantines and lockdowns that law enforcers must always remain respectful of human rights, even in the face of a national health emergency. We recognise that law enforcement officials are important in the protection of life, liberty, property, and the security of person—guaranteed rights as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in our 1987 Constitution. But there are also guidelines set on the use of force that law enforcers must strictly observe.
The Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, as adopted by the UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, remind that: ‘Law enforcement officials, in carrying out their duty, shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms.’
Under the same principles, it was outlined that if the use of force and firearms is unavoidable, then authorities must practice restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense, mindful of minimizing damage and injury and with respect to the preservation of human life.
The same discussions are found in the Philippine National Police Operational Procedures when it prohibited the excessive use of force during police operations. And if merited, reminds police officers, that ‘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 self- defense, defense of relative, or defense of stranger.’
At this point, we look forward to QCPD’s fair and impartial investigations. And similar to cases of alleged ’self-defense’ when confronted with imminent danger, we also reiterate our call to allow the rule of law to prevail and let the scrutiny of the proper courts weigh in on the question if the circumstances are justifiable to warrant the shooting, which eventually resulted to death.
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