Philippine Police, Army Probe Ex-Soldier’s Killing at COVID-19 Checkpoint

Basilio Sepe and Mark Navales
Manila and Cotabato, Philippines
200423-PH-police-1000.jpg Policemen patrol a road block during a COVID-19 lockdown in Sampaloc, a district of Manila, April 23, 2020.
Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

An ex-Philippine soldier disobeyed a policeman’s order and pulled out a handgun before being shot dead at a COVID-19 quarantine checkpoint in Metro Manila, authorities said Thursday as the national police and army opened investigations into the shooting.

The man, identified as army veteran Winston Ragos, 34, was shot and killed on Tuesday afternoon in Quezon City, three weeks after President Rodrigo Duterte instructed police to shoot to kill anyone who staged violent protests or violently resisted officers enforcing his government’s coronavirus lockdown.

A video of the shooting, which was widely circulated on social media, showed five police officers rushing to a store where Ragos was inside. One of them had his service pistol pointed at Ragos and then shot him twice, according to the footage.

The Philippine National Police, in an incident report released to the press on Thursday, said the altercation began when Ragos walked up to the police and taunted them.

The suspect reportedly was carrying a “sling bag with a handgun” and he attempted to engage the policemen in a shootout, the report alleged.

The lead policeman “warned the suspect to (put) his hands up but the former attempted to pull out his firearm inside his sling bag,” the report said.

Witnesses in the area, however, said that Ragos was known in the area and said to be suffering from mental illness.

Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay, the chief of the Philippine Army, said Thursday that he had ordered an investigation into the killing of Ragos, adding that the veteran soldier was discharged in 2016 for his illness.

Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, who heads the police task force meant to ensure peace and order during the public health crisis, said a full investigation would be carried out after witnesses claimed that Ragas was not carrying a firearm.

“What we know is that he approached the checkpoint and confronted the policemen. Then he walked away to the store,” infantry spokesman Col. Ramon Zagala told BenarNews. “A minute later, the police rushed in and then shots were fired.”

Zagala said Ragos was on a complete disability discharge since 2017 because he was struggling with mental illness. “But while he is no longer a soldier, he continues fighting a silent and lifelong battle,” he said.

‘Shoot them dead’

Earlier this month, President Duterte had ordered police officers manning quarantine checkpoints to fire on civilians who fought back or insisted on crossing checkpoints.

Duterte’s “shoot them dead” comments angered human rights advocates, and came after 21 people were jailed for protesting the lockdown in Quezon City. They were subsequently freed.

Just two days after that incident, an elderly man was gunned down after he allegedly threatened to harm officers with a scythe in southern Agusan del Norte province. The farmer had allegedly wanted to cross a quarantine checkpoint, too.

Rights group Karapatan on Thursday said Ragos’ killing was an “alarming and deplorable act of state violence that should be strongly condemned.”

“Footages from the incident clearly show that the police had ample time, opportunity and personnel to de-escalate and even potentially disarm the retired officer without disproportionately resorting to the use of lethal force,” it said in a statement. “Instead, they shot him not only once, but twice.”

“Exploiting emergency measures to unleash state violence and terror upon the people will only worsen the crisis we are already facing,” the group added.

Karapatan said the government’s response to the crisis had resulted in more attacks against civilians, mostly the poor, who were already suffering from his administration’s drug war that has left nearly 6,000 people dead during the past four years.

On Thursday, the Philippines had recorded nearly 7,000 COVID-19 cases in the country and 462 deaths from the virus.

Globally, almost 2.7 million people have been infected with the worldwide death toll topping 188,000 as of Thursday, according to data compiled by disease experts at U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.

Jeoffrey Maitem contributed to this report from Cotabato, Philippines.

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