The death of a suspected thief in the hands of the police in the central Philippines has alarmed the small, closely-knit, and deeply religious community in the Diocese of Maasin in the province of Southern Leyte.
“The case should have been handled in a way that upholds the dignity of the suspect,” said Monsignor Oscar Cadayona, vicar general of the Diocese of Maasin.
On Tuesday, December 13, no less than the regional police office filed a homicide case against police officer Ronald Gamayon, 36, who arrested suspected thief Gilbert Ranes on December 9.
“Rest assured that we will closely monitor this case or similar incidents involving officers under my watch,” said police Brigadier General Rommel Francisco Marbil.
“Here in Eastern Visayas, we do not tolerate misfits among our rank and file,” said the police general.
Colonel Hector Enage of the Southern Leyte Police Provincial Office said he and the entire police force in the province are saddened over the incident.
“It is very clear that there were lapses in police operational procedures,” he said. “Someone died. Someone must be accountable, must be liable,” he said.
Maasin city mayor Nacional Mercado condemned “the unnecessary show and use of force” by the police.
He urged concerned government agencies and the police “to seriously look into this transgression.”
Video of Ranes’ arrest went viral on social media in the past days. It shows a man in plainclothe holding an object and assaulting Ranes while he was bent over on the side of the road.
In another video, an unidentified man was heard saying “Tiwasan na (Finish him off).”
Another video also showed Ranes being dragged by men in plainclothes and an officer in uniform into what appeared to be a police vehicle.
Social media comments said the suspect was treated “like a pig.”
A medical report said Ranes died from “severe head trauma.” He also had “periorbital hematoma” on both eyes, contusions, and “multiple abrasions.”
Congressman Christopherson “Coco” Yap of the Second District of Southern Leyte also condemned the incident, saying “This kind of brutality has no place in a society that values human life and dignity.”
Carlos Conde, senior researcher at the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, said “police brutality” has become “common in the Philippines.”
“Since the start of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ in 2016, the police have been linked to thousands of extrajudicial killings during drug raids,” Conde said in a statement.
“Many other suspects have also been subjected to torture or mistreatment,” he added.
Church leaders in the province assured that they will continue with the “spiritual formation” of policemen despite the incident.
Douglas Macalalag, resident pastor at Potter’s House Christian Center in Palo town, said “not all are rotten tomatoes; some are stubborn.”
“The majority, I think, by God’s grace, they are loyal in the call of service,” said Macalalag, who partnered with the Police Regional Office through the “God Bless Our Cops Movement” since 2003.
The pastor said he dreams of a “God-centered, family-based, and service-oriented” police force.
Msgr. Cadayona, meanwhile, assured that the Church, through its “Give Change a Chance” program, will help in the reformation of crime offenders.
He admitted, however, that the Catholic Church’s spiritual partnership with the police force in the province is “only through a regular Mass at the police station itself” that stopped during the pandemic.