‘Kotong’ on the streets
The story sounds depressingly familiar: Motorist is flagged down by cops and threatened with jail time for an alleged offense, unless a certain amount of cash is forked over. How many ordinary citizens have been victimized this way by policemen and traffic enforcers doubling as professional extortionists? Who knows? Many simply comply out of fear for their lives and safety, and don’t bother to report the highway robbery.
But, in the latest case to hit the headlines, two cops had the extreme bad luck of harassing a 22-year-old man who turned out to have the best secret weapon possible in cases like this: His father is the policemen’s boss.
It was probably all in a day’s work for SPO4 Jose de la Peña and PO3 Resty del Rosario of the Quezon City Police District’s Mobile Patrol Unit when they accosted the young driver who had parked his car along a Quezon City street and was talking to someone on his mobile phone. The cops accused the driver of engaging in phone sex, told him falsely that it was a serious offense, and demanded P20,000 to hush up the case. The frightened driver said he didn’t have that kind of money, so the amount was progressively decreased until the cops settled for P5,000. De la Peña then took over the wheel to drive the young man to an ATM where he could withdraw the money. But the driver seized the chance to call his father for help, and that’s when the extortion attempt unraveled.
“My son’s voice was cracking,” Chief Supt. Leonardo Espina, the new director of the National Capital Police Region Office, later said in recalling the incident. “I really got worried because he was already crying when he told me what just happened to him. So I immediately told him to get the policeman who accosted him on the phone… [The policeman] asked me who I was. So I told him, ‘This is General Espina.’ But he suddenly hung up.”
The scene seemed straight out of a bad movie. According to Espina’s son, the two cops immediately bolted after hearing his father’s name on the phone. (Cue hysterical laughter here.)
The rogue cops are now facing administrative charges. Del Rosario surfaced to say that the extortion was all De la Pena’s idea, and that he was just “following orders” from his superior. De la Peña himself, accompanied by two lawyers, showed up at the QCPD only last Monday.
“We will do everything to go after these [kinds of policemen],” said a furious Espina. “We don’t want them to stay in the Philippine National Police.”
Espina has a tough job ahead. We’ve heard those words before from a long line of PNP brass invariably promising to clean up the Augean stables that the country’s law-enforcement force has become. But, every day, the “kotong” cop only appears to grow in number, criminal record and sense of impunity. Espina’s vow to kick out the likes of his son’s tormentors, for instance, is quickly deflated by subsequent news that De la Peña alone has seven administrative cases in his record—two of them for similar charges of extortion.
At various times, this classic scalawag in uniform was also accused of threatening and beating a motorist and being “arrogant, bullying and rude,” all acts qualifying as grave misconduct. Three of his cases had been approved for summary dismissal proceedings, but wonder of wonders, he is still in the rolls. If not for the freak circumstance of his latest victim’s powerful family connection finally—if entirely accidentally—busting his long-running criminal enterprise wide open, De la Peña would doubtless still be on the streets today, fleecing citizens on the strength of his police badge.
According to PNP records, most abusive cops tend to come from the ranks of rookies and junior law enforcers. That means something is terribly wrong with the training these newbies are getting as well as the organizational environment they graduate into from the academy, because many of them flounder all too soon on cases of rape, robbery, extortion, arbitrary detention, illegal arrest, maltreatment, and even torture of suspects—the usual catalogue of police crimes. And once these young policemen get away with it the first few times, they’re obviously well on their way to becoming the legendary kotong cops.
The Aquino administration has seen a measure of success in its campaign against that symbol of entitlement on the streets, the “wang-wang.” Something similar needs to be done, urgently, against corrupt policemen and dysfunctional PNP systems. Espina has laid down bold policies for Quezon City cops. We will hold him to his word. After all, very few of us have a police general for a father.