For an avowed anti-American, President Duterte sure does copy the Americans a lot. The centerpiece program of his administration is the so-called war on drugs, which follows the original, brutal, expensive but failed template set by US President Richard Nixon four decades ago. Now, in order to prosecute this war by another means, he wants to revive the Philippine Constabulary, the police force established by the American colonial authorities in 1901 and absorbed into the Philippine National Police 90 years later.
While this force had its share of patriots who served the country during World War II and in counterinsurgency campaigns, history has not looked kindly on the PC as a whole, because of its anti-Filipino role during the early years of the American Occupation and primarily because of its human-rights record during the martial law years. Then a part of the military structure, it was often used as the Marcos regime’s blunt tool of coercion.
The idea to revive the PC, then, is dangerous for at least three reasons: It represents yet another attempt to revise or whitewash Philippine history; it promises an escalation of Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs; and it violates the Constitution.
The President has floated the idea once before. Last September, he told soldiers he was considering reactivating the force to help fight urban terrorism. Last Monday, he repeated the proposal, this time as a direct response to the crisis that has swamped the PNP in the wake of the discovery of the kidnapping and murder, right inside Camp Crame, of Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo. Mr. Duterte characterized the PNP as “corrupt to the core.” His spokesperson Ernesto Abella alluded to this view of the President’s when he described the reactivated PC in this wise: “They would be, in the sense, a more trustworthy organization.”
But reactivating the PC to do the work of the police would run counter to the very specific intent of the Constitution, which provides: “The State shall establish and maintain one police force, which shall be national in scope and civilian in character, to be administered and controlled by a national police commission.” If, as the President seems to suggest, the PC will exist side by side with the PNP, then the country would have more than one police force.
The lawyer that he is, President Duterte has already anticipated this constitutional question. While details are still unavailable, and even the outline of the proposal is vague, he has suggested either that the reactivated PC be treated as a military unit, not a police force, and integrated into the Armed Forces, or that military personnel serve as PC staff, or both. Even this approach remains legally problematic, because of its use of the military to do police work. But the larger threat of the militarization of the police lies in another of the President’s trial balloons: He wants the military to go after PNP “scalawags.” Instead of empowering the PNP’s internal mechanisms and instituting a culture of real discipline in the organization rather than a personality cult, he is ready to let one armed group wage war on another. This is reckless beyond belief.
Bringing back the PC from the dead would also further erode the legitimacy of the Fifth Republic. The constitutional order restored after the Edsa People Power Revolution in 1986 rejected the antidemocratic, antipeople practices and institutions of the Marcos regime—including the much-feared PC.
The solution to the PNP crisis is staring the President and his administration in the face. It is for him to impose control over the national police force, discipline erring policemen, and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law those officers and men who are involved in drug syndicates. But he would need to start with a chief of police who can do all three on his behalf. If his PNP chief continues to lead through gimmicky mascots and made-for-TV bluster, not even reactivating the hated PC would be enough.
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