Karapatan: Killing of retired soldier shows no one is safe from Duterte’s “shoot them dead” order

Six weeks into the enhanced community quarantine, President Rodrigo Duterte’s militarist response to the COVID-19 pandemic has only resulted to worse and more brutal attacks on human rights and civil liberties in the form of mass arrests, inhumane punishments, and violence against so-called violators of the “enhanced community quarantine” policies. 

The fatal shooting of retired soldier Winston Ragos, who was reportedly suffering from schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder, at Brgy. Pasong Putik, Quezon City on Tuesday afternoon, April 21, for supposedly “violating” quarantine measures is 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 soldier without disproportionately resorting to the use of lethal force; instead, they shot him not only once, but twice. Nearby residents can be seen trying to stop the police from shooting him and one can even be heard screaming: “Bakit niyo binaril, sir? Dapat kinapkapan niyo muna!” (Why did you shoot him, sir? You should have frisked him first!)

The police claimed that they recovered a loaded revolver from his sling bag, but witnesses of the incident told the media that the retired soldier was unarmed and that his sling bag only contained his quarantine pass. His relatives also maintained that he did not possess firearms.

His killing only goes to show that the president’s “shoot them dead” orders and threats of a martial law-like takeover are not mere exaggerations — we have heard this order in the bloody drug war before. They embolden the military and the police to kill, and the president’s orders translate to dead bodies. “Leftist” or not, anyone — even a retired soldier — can become victims of State fascism.

Last April 17, United Nations (UN) special rapporteurs have reminded governments and law enforcement agencies that “[b]reaking a curfew, or any restriction on freedom of movement, cannot justify resorting to excessive use of force by the police” and that “under no circumstances should it lead to the use of lethal force.”

We support the position of the UN experts and we strongly remind the Duterte government that militarist threats and policies do nothing to curb the onslaught of the pandemic. Exploiting emergency measures to unleash State violence and terror upon the people will only worsen the crisis we are already facing.

Our basic rights are not on lockdown amid this pandemic — and to effectively combat this pandemic, the government needs to implement the needed public health measures, to address the people’s legitimate demands especially the poor and marginalized, and to uphold people’s rights, welfare, and dignity. We demand justice, and we will hold the government accountable.