Amid calls for justice for slain ex-soldier, army men’s mental struggles put to the fore

April 23, 2020 - 3:11 PM
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AFP soldiers lining up
Philippine Army soldiers lining up in formation. (The STAR/KJ Rosales)

Calls for justice for a retired soldier was launched online after a Quezon City cop shot him dead for allegedly violating quarantine rules, videos of which circulated and were criticized online. 

A former soldier Private First-Class Winston Ragos was gunned down at 2:30 pm on Tuesday in Barangay Pasong Putik, Quezon City by a police officer identified as Police Master Sergeant Daniel Florendo Jr. 

The Philippine Army verified that Ragos previously served in the military but was given a disability discharge in November 2017 after being diagnosed with a mental disorder. 

Ragos’ family specified that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after being assigned at the Marawi Siege in 2017.

When the news and videos of shooting incident broke, the QC cop’s move to shoot Ragos dead drew mixed reactions on social media. Some Filipinos supported the police officer’s actions to defend himself.  

Screenshot by Interaksyon

Others, however, denounced the killing, saying that it was unnecessary to shoot Ragos dead. 

Human rights group Karapatan pointed out that based on the available footage, there was enough time to disarm or neutralize Ragos during the confrontation.

Instead, the local police officer chose to kill him.

“Footage 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,” the group said.

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Former senator Antonio Trillanes IV also raised this concern in a tweet.

“Bago pa tayo umabot sa punto kung bumunot ba ng baril o hindi, ano nga ba raw ang krimen na nagawa ni Cpl. Ragos na dahilan para tutukan sya ng baril, pinatalikod at pinataas ng kamay nung pulis? Dahil lang nag violate ng ECQ? Dyan pa lang sabit na kayo,” he said.

#JusticeforWinstonRagos

The keywords “PTSD” and a hashtag campaign #JusticeforWinstonRagos trended on Twitter Philippines following calls for justice for the fallen soldier on the micro-blogging platform.  

“Imagine you’re a former AFP corporal, you got PTSD from wars that could’ve been prevented if the gov’t had better socio-economic plans for the people, then get murdered and your case gets fabricated into another “nanlaban” case by the PNP,” an Twitter user said.

YouTuber Janina Vela, meanwhile, noted that the tragedy is a result of President Rodrigo Duterte’s consistent “shoot to kill” remarks, which he has been making since 2016. 

“What’s to say it won’t happen again? or happen to you or your loved ones? UNACCEPTABLE,” Vela said.  

Philippine Army highlights mental struggles of soldiers 

While it expressed condolences to Ragos’ family, the Philippine Army also recalled the mental struggles soldiers experience even after their release from military service. 

“To a soldier, the wounds of war are not just physical but also mental and their scars are not always seen,” the Philippine Army said in a statement released Thursday.  

It sought awareness from the public on the life-long battle of mental problems. 

“The Philippine Army seeks awareness on the plight of former soldiers struggling with mental problems. Even though they are no longer soldiers, they continue fighting a silent and lifelong battle,” it said.  

It would also conduct investigation with the Philippine National Police to bring justice to Ragos’ death.  

What is PTSD?

The American Psychiatric Association defined post-traumatic stress disorder as an illness that “can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault.” 

Combat or war veterans normally suffer from such condition after they have been released from either the military or the law enforcement. 

Symptoms of people suffering from PTSD vary from intrusive flashbacks of the traumatic event to reckless behavior and being self-destructive.  

A clinical psychologist named Ma. Lourdes Carandang said in a report of Inquirer that soldiers with PTSD are considered more complicated than other trauma victims because they obeyed commands that may be against their values.   

Carandang, who handled cases of those who fought in the Marawi Siege last 2017, shared that a person who has undiagnosed PTSD can be very dangerous.  

“He can victimize people without knowing. It can lead to many, many consequences. They can be violent toward others, be always angry, have uncontrolled outbursts, and they don’t know why they are doing these,” Carandang was quoted in the September 2017 report of Inquirer.. 

‘Shooting Ragos only self-defense’

Police Lieutenant General Guillermo Eleazar, head of Joint Task Force COVID Shield, told ANC his “personal opinion” that what Florendo did was an act of self-defense.  

“Kung titingnan natin ito, this is a—well we can say self-defense. Kung ang nangyari is hinayaan niyang makabunot ito at naputukan, for sure madidisgrasya itong ating pulis,” he said in the television interview 

The accounts of the police and witnesses of the Ragos shooting incident, however, differ.  

The police report alleged that Ragos carried a loaded .38 caliber revolver inside his sling bag and attempted to take it out when Florendo confronted him.  

However, a witness told ABS-CBN News that he was unarmed when he was shot.  

“Ang nasaksihan ko, nakatutok na ‘yung baril (nung pulis) sa taoSinabihan namin na wag na iputok ang baril,” the witness said. 

Other media reports also mentioned that Ragos’ bag contains “IDs, quarantine passes, a sheet of contact numbers in case he gets lost, and family photos.”

The victim’s family also denied that Ragos was armed, citing that he was only holding a water bottle.

In a CCTV footage released on Wednesday, residents who were present during the shooting incident were also trying to stop the police from shooting the victim, citing his mental condition.  

Other witnesses also recalled to CNN Philippines that one of the police officers dismissed their calls and proceeded with the killing. 

Probing the cop-shooting incident

The Commission on Human Rights in a statement said it has launched its own investigation into the killing of Ragos.

CHR spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said that the commission notes the leadership of the Quezon City Police District issuance of statement that what Florendo did was a “judgment call.”

“However, there are different accounts of what transpired, including clashing narratives on whether the victim had a pistol in his sling bag, which the police claims as a sign of imminent danger, thus resulting to the shooting,” she said.

Human Rights Chel Diokno, meanwhile, released questions that should be answered regarding the death of Ragos.

Reports said that the QCPD is now investigating Florendo for possible criminal and administrative charges. 

The CHR said it is acknowledging this and is hopeful for its unbiased probe.

“At this point, we look forward to QCPD’s fair and impartial investigations. And similar to cases of alleged ’self-defense’ when confronted with imminent danger, we also reiterate our call to allow the rule of law to prevail and let the scrutiny of the proper courts weigh in on the question if the circumstances are justifiable to warrant the shooting, which eventually resulted to a death,” De Guia said.

The CHR also stressed that law enforcers must “always remain respectful of human rights , even in the face of a national health emergency” as it implements quarantine and lockdowns. —With reporting from Rosette Adel

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