Police As Defenders of Human Rights

by Fr. Shay Cullen

Weeks have now passed since the shocking August 23 hostage taking and siege by a police of a tourist bus in Manila but the shame, disgust and recriminations remain and grow more intense instead of waning. Eight of the 22 tourists from Hong Kong were killed by the hostage taker, a former highly decorated Manila police officer 55-year-old Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza.

Writers, journalists and political leaders have expressed profound apologies to the families of the dead and wounded on behalf of the nation. Church leaders called for prayers for the victims and survivors. They prayed for reconciliation and forgiveness from the people of Hong Kong where many thousands of Filipinos work as domestic helpers. Some fear for their jobs. Thousands marched last week in solidarity with the victims.

However, apologies, shame and prayers are not sufficient to deal with the poison diet of moral decadence and corruption that has fed the arrogance and culture of impunity that surrounds many police and military in the Philippines today. There are many good, upright and brave police and military personnel but they do not seem to the ones who gather the awards, medals and promotions. Nor are they numerous enough or in higher positions of authority to be able to counter balance and overwhelm the apparently more numerous nefarious members of the Philippine National Police.

This decades old environment of non-accountability, casual routine crime by people in power who are paid to prevent it, brought Roland Mendoza and his victims to their tragic end. He was a multi-awarded officer who was cited in 1986 by Jaycees International as one of the 10 outstanding policemen of the Philippines. The Jaycees will need to revise their criteria for background checks and replace their selection committee. They pinned medals on a multiple murderer.

Last January, Mendoza and his police unit was charged with framing up an innocent person, extorting 20,000 pesos and inflicting physical injury on the victim. He was fired only after the incident was exposed on the internet. He denied any wrongdoing, despite strong evidence to the contrary. He was incensed that he was accused, was not brought to trial and he demanded he be reinstated. He had no remorse for what he had done. He believed himself innocent thinking perhaps that a high ranking officer with his awards and medals could do no wrong. Mendoza arrogantly believed that his authority placed him above the law, all accusations and ordinary mortals. This is the culture of impunity that grows in those that rise to power, claim elite status and entitlement to position and privilege.

When his demand for reinstatement was ignored, he took the people hostage and sought vengeance. The 11-hour siege was broadcast live on radio. When he saw or heard his brother, who was bought in to help with the negotiations, being arrested, he started his killing spree. This was followed by an incompetent assault by a Manila Police Swat team which may have caused him to kill more hostages.

A week previous to the hostage taking, another multi-award police inspector was seen on television torturing a hapless victim lying naked on the floor of the Tondo police station with a wire tied around his penis and genitals that the highly decorated inspector was pulling as the naked victim screamed and writhed in agony. The police inspector was beating him repeatedly with a belt or rope to get him to confess. He later disappeared.

These are just the symptoms of the deeper underlying malady of police aggression and brutality within the force that the Aquino government needs to address urgently. There is hope for a more intelligent and educated police force is developing.

More women police with higher rank is essential. Training will have to focus on making the police the defenders of human rights and not the violators.

Leave a Comment