"We did not need the President to be sad; we needed him to be angry."
If the results were not so lethal and the risks to the public so real, the shootout between cops and state narcotics agents on Feb. 24 would have been almost laughable.
But the firefight claimed the lives of two members of the Philippine National Police (PNP), an agent of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and an informant. Several others from both sides were wounded.
Inexplicably, the law enforcement agents from both sides saw fit to shoot it out in the parking lot of a busy McDonald’s outlet past 6 p.m., at a major intersection along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City.
Footage of the shootout taken by witnesses on their cell phones showed heavily armed men and women in shorts and slippers, who turned out to be undercover anti-narcotics officers.
One video showed armed men and women already at the parking lot of the McDonald’s outlet, while a man lay prone near a motorcycle.
An armed man was also seen hiding at a gasoline station in front of the parking lot, as tricycle drivers cowered in fear.
Under the overpass that traverses Commonwealth Avenue, an armed man was spotted with his foot on another person lying prone, as another armed man joined them.
Minutes afterward, more men also wearing shorts and slippers arrived carrying different kinds of firearms.
Thankfully, no civilians were hurt, although there were bullet holes in some of the vehicles parked at the restaurant. The 20-minute exchange of gunfire also triggered panic in the nearby mall.
Police sought to play down the incident.
The Metro Manila police chief said it was “very unfortunate that a misencounter happened on both sides,” saying this was not the first time such an incident has happened.
The Palace later issued a statement saying President Duterte was “saddened” by the encounter.
“The President, of course, expressed both sadness and concern, on why it happened that both forces of the government got into a gunfight,” his spokesman, speaking in a mix of English and Filipino, said.
He promised an impartial probe and assured the public that “justice will be done.”
This wasn’t the response the country needed.
We did not need the President to be sad, we needed him to be angry—angry at the incompetence the shootout highlighted and at the wanton disregard for public safety that the police and the PDEA exhibited.
We needed the President to act like a leader, and demand better from his subordinates in law enforcement, who for far too long have got away with stupid and insensitive, and even corrupt actions because they knew their boss had a soft spot in his heart for men in uniform.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, who often sides with the President, described the situation succinctly when he said the administration’s “war on drugs” was a failure.
“Let us not pretend anymore, the drug war really failed because the drugs are still there,” Lacson said in a radio interview.
Given the death of thousands upon thousands of Filipinos in that bloody war—including the four killed in last week’s inexcusable shootout—this is surely no laughing matter.