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Facial recognition

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A cartographic sketch of a suspected criminal can be sketchy.

When police from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA released to the public the drawing of an alleged market thief’s face back in 2018, it became a media sensation overshadowing the subject of the manhunt and his petty crime.

Strawberry-shaped and eyebrowless with dot eyes and one ear, the supposed composite sketch of Hung Phuoc Nguyen was more of a kiddie caricature that drew laughter from netizens. Media attention also turned to the anonymous sketcher who happened to be the witness to the crime though the local police could not avoid the ridicule.

Philippine law enforcers are not immune to a controversial artist’s rendition of crime suspects. When businessman Dominic Sytin was gunned down in Subic Bay Freeport in November 2018, the hitman’s sketch was better than the cartoonish version of the Lancaster police’s suspect only to be flawed by a cap and bandana covering the lower half of the face. The public could not avoid getting amused from the artist’s half-hearted sketch.

Nguyen was eventually arrested not because the police came up with an improved sketch of him. One officer attending to the case happened to be familiar with the subject and the sketcher’s description of the thief in words reminded him of Nguyen. The officer showed the photo of Nguyen in the police records and the witness confirmed that he was the one who stole cash from a store.

As for the Sytin murder case, a walk-in witness who knew the gunman tipped the latter off. Edgardo Luib was arrested in Batangas on 5 March 2019 and pleaded guilty to prosecutors. He also pointed to the victim’s brother as the mastermind of the killing.

Not to be outdone by the sketcher of Luib’s covered face was the National Bureau of Investigation’s (NBI) artist who drew the face of the suspected gun-for-hire who shot dead human rights lawyer Rex Fernandez in Cebu City last month. Based on the witness’ description, the cartographic sketch includes the surgical mask worn by the shooter at the time.

A post of the composite sketch on social media went viral and elicited sarcastic comments and reactions. One netizen said the sketch narrows down the number of suspects to 110 million people, the country’s entire population.

Other netizens volunteered help by reposting the sketch with a nose and mouth drawn over the mask and posting photos of controversial government officials with a mask on.

The NBI shrugged off the criticisms and mockery. After all, additional clues and leads that may emerge later can help identify Fernandez’s killer. The sketch, if it can be called sloppy, won’t be a drawback.

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