Insanity as legal defense? Duterte claims cop who killed unarmed mother, son ‘mentally ill’

December 22, 2020 - 1:24 PM
This photo posted on December 21, 2020 shows Police SMSgt. Jonel Nuezca surrendering to the Rosales Municipal Police Station. Nuezca surrendered on Sunday after shooting two of his neighbors in Paniqui, Tarlac during an argument. (Photos courtesy of Rosales, Pangasinan Municipal Police Station via The STAR)

President Rodrigo Duterte claimed that the police who shot two unarmed civilian on Sunday is suffering from mental illness or ‘topak.’

Senior Master Sergeant Jonel Nuezca was charged with two counts of murder on Monday, December 21 after he shot two unarmed civilians 52-year-old Sonya Gregorio and her son, Frank Anthony Gregorio, 25, over a heated argument.

A video of this incident circulated across various social media platforms on Monday and triggered a widespread call for reforms to end police brutality in the Philippines.

READ: ‘How many were not filmed?’: Calls to end police brutality renewed after cop killed mother and son in Tarlac

In his regular televised briefing aired Monday night, Duterte said that he was also appalled after watching the video clip of the shooting incident.

“Baka hindi ninyo talaga nakuha ha pero I don’t think that… Isa lang itong klaseng pulis na ‘to. May sakit ito sa utak. Topak. And I’m just wondering why he was able to — nakalusot sa neuro. You could detect a person by the way he answers in a — ‘yung mga tests sa neuro. Tarantado ‘yung g*** na ‘yon,” the president said.

“‘Di ba sinabi ko: You do it right, I’m with you. You do it wrong, and there will be a hell to pay,” he added.

Duterte reiterated the mental illness assertion throughout his speech even when Interior Secretary Eduardo Año was giving him an update into the reported murders.

“I agree with you, Secretary Año. Alam mo bihira kang makakitang ganito and you can only find this in people who are crazy,” the president said.

Insanity as legal defense?

Former Supreme Court spokesperson and law professor Theodore Te noted that “insanity” is a legal concept that should be proven in court, citingArticle 12 of the Revised Penal Code.

“Here’s the thing: ‘Insanity’ as an exempting circumstance under Art. 12 is not a medical term but a legal concept. ‘Insanity’ does not equate to ‘crazy,’” Te said.

“Insanity as a defense must be proven by an accused in court. It means, though, that the accused must first be charged—it cannot be administratively determined, i.e., at the level of the DOJ (Department of Justice) or the PNP (Philippine National Police),” he added.

Article 12.1 of the RPC states that “an imbecile or an insane person” can be exempted from criminal liability if proven in court.

The person, however, shall be confined “in one of the hospitals or asylums established for persons thus afflicted, which he shall not be permitted to leave without first obtaining the permission of the same court.”

In a 2017 ruling where an accused pleaded insanity, the criterion for “insanity” for exempting crime was:

“It is required that there must be a complete deprivation of intelligence in committing the act, i.e., the accused is deprived of reason.”

What the video clip showed

The gruesome footage of the Tarlac shooting incident showed the altercation between Nuezca and his victims over the latter’s use of a local noisemaker or “boga”.

Nuezca’s daughter was also at the scene who could be heard saying: “My father is a policeman!”

Alyssa Calosing, who reportedly recorded the video, recalled in a radio interview that both the cop and his daughter just walked away after the shooting.

“He took his daughter and they walked off, like it was nothing,” she claimed.

Some Filipinos likewise argued that Nuezca was mentally capable when he executed them.

“Yes, he’s crazy but ONLY in the figurative sense of the word. He was and IS mentally capable. That shooting was done with INTENT. Stop easily dismissing these killings,” one user said.

“You do not get to dismiss this as ‘topak,’ Duterte. A system of impunity bred entitlement that gives license to death as an immediate solution to problems. And you turned this into a governance policy!” veteran journalist Inday Espina Varona wrote.

Psychiatric exams required

Following Duterte’s remarks, PNP spokesperson PBGen Ildebrandi Usana in an interview with CNN Philippines on Tuesday, said that the organization has psychiatric exams during recruitment and promotions.

“There are series of neuropsychiatric examinations but this is done only during recruitment, even promotion of policemen. Maybe this is one of what we lack in our system,” Usana said.

He also echoed Duterte’s view that Nuezca should not serve as a police officer.

“Sabi nga ng Presidente, may ‘topak.’ He shouldn’t be a member of PNP,” Usana said.

Data from Police Regional Office III chief Police Brigadier General Val de Leon showed that Nuezca had faced grave misconduct or homicide cases before.

His cases in May and December last year were dismissed due to lack of substantial evidence.

In another interview with ANC, Paniqui police chief Lieutenant Colonel Noriel Rombaoa said that it is eyeing to have Nuezca undergo neuropsychiatric examination. This test one’s mental stability.

Rombaoa, however, said the suspect is not yet showing signs of mental illness.

“As of now, wala pa naman pong nakikitang kakaiba sa kanya but we are planning, kung ano iyong proseso, na magkaroon ng neuropsychiatry. We will coordinate po doon sa ibang agency ng higher office po,” Rombaoa said.