Philippine Police Chief: No Law Requires Officers Wear Body Cameras

Aie Balagtas-See
Philippine Police Chief: No Law Requires Officers Wear Body Cameras One of the three officers convicted of killing Kian Lloyd delos Santos, 17, is escorted by police outside the Regional Trial Court in suburban Caloocan City, Philippines, Nov. 29, 2018.
Karl Romano/BenarNews

The new Philippine National Police chief said Friday that officers could not be forced to wear body cameras, despite mounting calls from human rights groups for accountability involving thousands of extrajudicial killings linked to the government’s war on drugs. 

Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, who took command of the police in May, acknowledged that the cameras could help promote transparency amid questionable deaths in officer-involved shootings. 

Still, “there is no law that requires us to wear bodycams,” he told journalists during an online news conference with members of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines.

Earlier this month, Eleazar said he intended to distribute about 2,000 cameras to 171 police units after citizens’ anti-crime groups and rights organizations had complained about suspects or civilians dying in alleged shootouts with the police. 

Units in major cities had received the first batch of cameras and these units are not allowed to share them with other officers, he said at the time, adding that about 600 officers had been trained to use them.

Officers often cite “nanlaban” – a Tagalog term meaning the suspect put up a fight, forcing police to draw their firearms.  

Eleazar’s statement came shortly after the International Criminal Court’s outgoing chief prosecutor asked for an investigation into President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war, which rights groups said has led to about 30,000 deaths while the government places the figure at nearly 8,000. 

The prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said there was “a reasonable basis to believe that the crime against humanity of murder was committed” in the Philippines between July 2016, when Duterte took office, and March 2019. She released a report asking for a full investigation into the president’s drug war on the day before she finished her nine-year term.

“Information obtained by the prosecution suggests that state actors, primarily members of the Philippine security forces, killed thousands of suspected drug users and other civilians during official law enforcement operations,” Bensouda said at the time.

Duterte has said he would never submit to the court. On Monday, he insisted that those killed in the drug war were suspects who fought back.

“The ICC is bullshit,” he said Monday. 

Following Bensouda’s request, an ex-mayor suspected of being a drug lord was shot and killed on June 17 while being transported to Manila a day after he was arrested. Police alleged that Montasser Sabal, the former mayor of Talitay, grabbed an officer’s gun, leading to the shooting.

On June 16, a teenage boy was among two killed near Manila after police alleged that the pair pulled a gun on officers.

Speaking to the reporters’ organization on Friday, Eleazar clarified that special police units such as the anti-narcotics office are not covered by an initial Supreme Court resolution requiring the use of body cameras when serving warrants. That resolution was tabled in March but a final formal order has not been issued.

The use was recommended by lawmakers after Kian Lloyd delos Santos, 17, was killed by Caloocan police officers in a bogus anti-drug operation in 2017.

Despite that recommendation, former national police Drug Enforcement Group chief Joseph Adnol said officers do not need cameras because they have “God watching over them.”

Calls for body cameras renewed after off-duty policeman Hensie Zinampan was captured on mobile phone video allegedly fatally shooting Lilybeth Valdez, 52, at close range in suburban Quezon City on May 31.  

He has since been arrested and fired from the police department.

Carlos Conde, the Philippines researcher for Human Rights Watch, told BenarNews that this highlighted the need for police body cameras.

“While cameras alone won’t stop police abuses, they bring a measure of transparency during police operations,” Conde said.

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