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Judgment call

The relief of nine Manila Police District (MPD) officers involved in the violent dispersal of protesters in front of the US embassy last week was expected.

The clash that resulted in injuries to scores of policemen and demonstrators was not only the fault of one camp. In my opinion, both sides committed errors in judgment.

On the side of the anti-US protesters, they should have secured a rally permit. Most likely, Manila Mayor President Estrada would have supported their initiatives (as long as it is peaceful) by granting them a permit to demonstrate near the American embassy. The embassy is a no-rally zone.

Remember, Estrada, then a senator, was among those who voted in 1991 to reject a new treaty for the Subic Bay Naval Station and to end American military presence in the country.

Video footages of the rally showed how the demonstrators occupied Roxas Boulevard fronting the US embassy, obstructing the flow of the already problematic vehicular traffic; how they defaced the embassy seal and police van by painting them red; and how they stoned and clashed with policemen, and shook a police vehicle and banged on its windows and body.

The rallyists claimed they support President Duterte’s “independent foreign policy”. Do you think the President would allow the breakdown of peace and order?

What occurred last Wednesday was no longer an issue of sharing anti-US sentiments with Duterte but being anti-peace and order, a proposition that, I am sure, the chief executive does not share.

On the side of the police, I believe Senior Superintendent Marcelino Pedrozo, Manila Police District (MPD) deputy director for operations, and the other officers erred in judgment.

Whether or not the police van and its driver were in danger, there was no excuse to plow the vehicle through a mass of angry demonstrators.

One footage showed that even long after the dispersal, policemen struck the rallyists’ jeepneys with their sticks as they sped away. One of the protesters’ drivers was yanked out of a jeepney and truncheoned until he fell to the ground bloodied.

Obviously, “maximum tolerance” was not exercised in its maximum that fateful day. Tempers flared as both camps suffered injuries.

That said, I always believe that the job of the police is not about being strong enough to use force but strong enough not to.

Quoting actor Tom Selleck in the TV police crime drama “Blue Bloods”, he said: “I would like to point out here that police officers make split-second decisions every day. Making judgment calls are part of their jobs. Their intention is not to cause harm. Their intention is to avoid harm. If an officer makes the wrong call, it not only affects citizens, but also affects officers themselves in ways that only someone who has walked in their shoes can fully understand. Cops are held to a higher standard of accountability than the rest of the population, as they should be.

But never forget that they are people too. Men and women subject to the same doubts and regrets that all of us are.

I’m not asking for anyone to cut us some slack, not at all. But a little recognition for the conditions under which our men and women operate, that would go a long way.”

Given the severity of the incident, however, the policemen involved will have to face the music.

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SHORT BURSTS. For comments or reactions, email firingline@ymail.com or tweet @Side_View. Read current and past issues of this column at http://www.tempo.com.ph/category/opinion/firing-line/ (Robert B. Roque, Jr.)

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