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Discipline breakdown in the PNP

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COMMENTARY

Discipline breakdown in the PNP

12:08 AM February 14, 2017

In what may be considered one of the most shameful incidents in the history of the Philippine National Police, 228 Metro-Manila-based policemen were publicly reprimanded and humiliated recently by President Duterte.

Believing that they are all rogue cops incapable of mending their ways, the President ordered them to resign or be reassigned for two years to Basilan, the stomping ground of the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf.

The President did not hide his pique with some of those he had earlier named as frontliners in his campaign to rid the country of illegal drugs. He had repeatedly said he would protect all of them and that he would assume full legal responsibility for cases they may face in the course of his war on drugs. But as things turned out later, some of the law enforcers he had “empowered” to help him live up to his campaign promise used it instead as an opportunity to make money and, worse, as cover to commit heinous crimes.

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Because his erstwhile niño bonito (or favorite child) has become “rotten to the core,” the President has barred the PNP from engaging in activities related to the war on drugs until it has cleansed its ranks.

To be fair, the sad state of the PNP did not happen overnight or after the Duterte administration came to power. It is the result of years of supervisory neglect and lack of discipline.

The PNP is the product of the merger of the former Philippine Constabulary (which used to be part of the Armed Forces of the Philippines) and the Integrated National Police. It was organized in 1991 pursuant to the constitutional mandate to “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.”

The PNP’s disengagement from the organizational structure of the AFP meant a change in, among others, its internal supervisory rules and system of discipline.

The military’s strict rule on discipline (“Obey first before you complain”) was replaced by civil service regulations that
encouraged consultations or compliance with procedural requirements before certain actions can be taken.

Because the PNP is civilian in character, the court-martial system that is endemic to the military was abolished in favor of a process that replicates the regular judicial system that gives emphasis on due process and civil rights.

In lieu of the military system of justice that shunned technicalities, the PNP, living up to its civilian or nonmilitary standing, adopted a legalistic and procedure-oriented system of discipline for its personnel.

Four government offices are authorized to handle disciplinary cases in the PNP, namely: the National Police Commission, PNP Internal Affairs Service (IAS), People’s Law Enforcement Board, and Office of the Ombudsman.

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To date, some 4,000 complaints against police officers for domestic violence, robbery, extortion and kidnapping are pending in the Napolcom. If the complaints filed with the other government agencies earlier mentioned are included in the list, the number of cases would more than double.

Regrettably, the Napolcom has been the subject of numerous complaints for its failure to expeditiously resolve the complaints filed against police officers and kid-glove treatment of erring policemen.

Because of camaraderie among the ranks, the IAS, which is supposed to “police the police,” has been sleeping on the job, as was shown during the Senate hearing on the killing of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa last year inside the subprovincial jail in Baybay, Leyte.

With the disciplinary axe in the PNP practically shelved or sparingly used, it should not come as a surprise that, according to Mr. Duterte, 40 percent of its staff are engaged in illegal activities. When the cat is away, the mice will play.

Something better than swearing at erring police officers in public or sending them to strife-torn places in Mindanao has to be done if the administration wants to restore public trust and confidence in the PNP.

Raul J. Palabrica (rpalabrica@inquirer.com.ph) writes a weekly column in the Business section of the Inquirer.

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