The pause that refreshes
President Duterte has been pointed, even merciless, about the police from the start of his term, telling them in his first appearance at Camp Crame that they didn’t deserve the confidence he was placing in the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Instead, he would personally vet and approve all promotions. On the other hand, speaking on his war on drugs, he offered the cops a deal: Do what I say, and I will have your back when it comes to any cases that result from tokhang operations.
By now it is obvious that the President reacts to challenges by raising the ante when confronted by a problem. Doubling down on political will carries with it the satisfaction of punching through rules and regulations that frustrate him. So last Sunday the President did two things as far as the police are concerned. He said he had Philippine National Police Chief Ronald Bato’s back, but the scandal over the kidnapping, torture and murder of Jee Ick-joo could not be ignored: There would be a reorganization.
The President likes to dish out peppery phrases, knowing it will be hot copy, while allowing other pronouncements of his to slip through unobserved and unreported. Consider how he now intends to have not one but three lists. First is the (in)famous one of drug suspects that he likes to wave around.
Second is the one he has instructed the PNP chief to put together (as of Sunday night). Basically the President said that cops who have faced cases should be put on a list, and he will then assign them to Mindanao as he needs warm bodies to augment the PNP’s presence in problem areas there. Once the list is ready, tokhang can resume and continue all the way to the end of his term.
His reasoning reveals his utter skepticism when it comes to the procedures of the PNP. Asked if it was wise or even fair to assign disgraced cops to Mindanao, the President pointed out that everyone of those cops was considered cleared, and, thus, innocent—but he added that he didn’t think much of, nor could he really know, how those clearances were obtained, so better to send them to Jolo, Basilan or Zamboanga anyway. There, they would either be forced to behave, or end up killed, which he seemed to suggest is pretty much a win-win as far as he’s concerned.
Third is a list composed of names of convicts in Muntinlupa. He said that he was aware of the public’s concern over criminals being released from jail, only to resume a life of crime. This list, judging from his demeanor, would be the first step in making sure this potential problem would be eliminated.
His deal with the police stands; what he is doing now is a purge in preparation for further escalating the war on drugs.
When you think of it, at least four of the last six administrations have taken an intense interest in the national police, but no one proposed reviving the disgraced Constabulary. Cory Aquino found the police to be both boon (the loyalty of police general Alfredo Lim in confronting putschists) and bane (the careless bloodthirstyness of the same Lim with rallyists, something he would similarly inflict on Noynoy Aquino in the Quirino Grandstand hostage crisis, when Lim provoked the hostage-taker into running amok).
Fidel V. Ramos, himself a Constabulary man (and police chief who may have created the SAF as a kind of praetorian guard to protect himself during the paranoid waning days of the Marcos era) didn’t try to revive it; Joseph Estrada found out the limits of police protection when they abandoned him after the AFP turned against him; Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo cultivated the police as a foil to the potential disloyalty of the AFP. Noynoy Aquino in many ways was more comfortable with, and keen on, a traditional approach to police matters while actively promoting professionalism in the military; but Rodrigo Duterte takes a mayor’s attitude to the police—it’s his private army, even as the AFP refuses to participate in the drug war.
His solution, which he’s been proposing for some time, was reiterated by his spokesman yesterday. Revive the Philippine Constabulary. Nothing is more revealing of the chief executive belonging to a different time, and era that even Bato found abusive.
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