A dishonored force
The call for the revival of the Philippine Constabulary takes me back down memory lane to a day in 1970 when I was teaching at the Asian Institute of Management and the subject of discussion was the Greater Manila Terminal Food Market. The food terminal was established with the objective of bringing down the price of agricultural produce by removing the multiple tiers of channels of distribution, or middlemen, in the supply chain, thus eliminating the markups imposed by them. To accomplish this, the government provided a vast marketplace where farmers and fishers could bring their produce and sell these directly to consumers at retail price.
In the course of the discussion, one student said it was not the markups imposed by the intermediaries that caused the high price of agricultural produce, it was the payola the producers had to cough up to the constables at the many checkpoints along the roads from farms and fishing villages to the public markets that did. No one disputed the claim. Instead, the class turned to Rene, a major in the PC. “Yeah, Rene, can some reforms in the PC be instituted?” asked the guy seated next to him.
The usually quiet Maj. Rene de Villa suddenly became voluble and assertive. “To be able to institute reforms, we have to eradicate the existing population and start a new generation altogether because reforms are impossible as corruption is ingrained not only in the military but in the Filipino people,” he said.
At the time, the PC was one of the four major services of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. As its main function was to maintain peace and order, the PC was in effect the country’s national police. Due to the increased criminality in the Greater Manila Area in the late 1960s, the PC Metropolitan Command or Metrocom was formed to complement the police forces of the cities and municipalities in the capital region in their campaign against all forms of criminality, including illegal fishing.
In September 1972, six months after De Villa graduated from the AIM, President Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law. The PC took the lead in enforcing military rule. It carried out Marcos’ orders to seize business establishments owned by oligarchs not obsequious to him and to arrest his political enemies, student activists, militant labor leaders, journalists and academics critical of his policies and programs.
The pervasive corruption in the military cited by De Villa surfaced as Marcos’ generals gave vent to their rapacity, amassing by crooked ways enormous fortunes. Palatial homes, fleets of luxury vehicles, and pompous lifestyles became characteristic of Marcos’ generals and colonels. The reputedly corrupt PC gained ultimate notoriety in the early years of martial rule for the indescribable torture it inflicted on political prisoners. Some women activists were subjected to the horrible torture of gang rape.
The PC was abolished in the 1990s, its officers and men absorbed by the Integrated National Police, now the Philippine National Police. But now President Duterte is considering to revive the PC to complement the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in the war on drugs. He believes law enforcers and leaders of local government units tend to work with one another for nefarious reasons, such as the illegal drug trade.
“…[T]hese police, whether you like it or not, gravitate toward the mayors and barangay captains,” the President said. But would not the PC officers, whether we like it or not, gravitate toward local government officials as they did before, during and after martial law? The five police generals whom Mr. Duterte accused of being protectors of drug lords are Philippine Military Academy graduates and former PC junior officers. Why then revive the PC?
I can say, though, that in the days when martial law ruled, De Villa and Percival Adiong, who was also a PC major when he entered the AIM in 1973, remained true to the core values they learned at the PMA and AIM. De Villa rose to become AFP chief of staff then defense secretary, and Adiong became No. 2 man at the National Police Commission.
Oscar P. Lagman Jr. has been a keen observer of Philippine politics since the 1950s.