Police chief Alan Purisima had some interesting things to say during his press conference last weekend. Reacting to a rash of media reports showing cops to have been involved in rubouts and sundry wrongdoing, he lamented the world being turned on its head. “With so many stories coming out, even members of the media are unwittingly being used because they are fed false information. The criminal is becoming the hero.”
He cautioned media to be careful because he had it on good authority that the drug lords were mounting a propaganda offensive. They were out to discredit the cops who had shown themselves to be especially effective in fighting drug trafficking. “They have all the money and power to do that. They have a lot of influence.”
True enough, there’s been a spate of stories of late depicting cops to exhibit unsavory behavior. One told of Cavite cops and prison guards springing Ozamiz gang leaders Ricky Cadavero and Wilfredo Panogalinga from their cells in exchange for a bribe. The escapees were later rubbed out by the same cops. The rubout was witnessed by a couple of people who agreed to testify. The media later reported the witnesses as missing.
Another report said the cops who recaptured drug lord Li Lan Yan and his wife Wang Li Na pocketed cash and drugs from the couple’s lair in San Juan.
Before this, cops in Davao City were caught on video shooting someone behind the wheel of an SUV while he had his hands clasped behind his head. He was one of three people the cops gunned down in cold blood but reported killed in a shootout.
And of course earlier this year, cops from Calabarzon massacred a suspected gambling lord and 12 of his companions in Atimonan. The cops reported the incident as an encounter, but an investigation ordered by Malacañang showed the incident to be an ambush.
Except for the one about the witnesses to the execution of Cadavero and Panogalinga having disappeared, all these reports are true. In the case of the witnesses, the NBI knew their whereabouts all along but were just keeping it secret. The witnesses themselves, Leila de Lima says, are credible. As is the witness in Li Lan Yan’s arresting officers helping themselves to his cash and stuff. And as are the witnesses that showed the killings at the Atimonan checkpoint were not an encounter but an execution. As to the murders in Davao, there’s a video to prove it.
So how are the media being used by drug lords who are intent on ruining the good name of top cops? Where is the false information?
What makes Purisima’s remarks deeply worrisome is that they’re really just a variation of Rodrigo Duterte’s complaint, which is that when media report the rubouts, when Etta Rosales fulminates against the human rights abuses that these represent, when the public itself rises to protest them, they are siding with the enemy. They are emasculating law enforcement, they are making it impossible for cops to do their jobs. They are turning the bad guys into the good guys, they are turning heels into heroes.
You look at Purisima’s remarks more closely and you realize that he is merely concerned about cops being perceived as being on the take, as being bantay-salakay or carting away loot from lair, as being complicit in drugs, illegal gambling, and kidnapping. He is not particularly concerned about cops “salvaging” suspects. The former constitutes crookedness, the latter does not.
Like Duterte, he imagines that when people complain about cops “salvaging” suspects, they are being finicky, they are living in a fantasy world, they have no appreciation of the levels of viciousness in the streets which make things like this permissible, or even necessary. Like Duterte, he imagines that when people howl their heads off about rubouts, they are emboldening criminals, they are abetting crime, they are turning wolves into lambs.
Proof of this is his utter silence on rubouts. He says that today’s PNP is resolved to hew to P-Noy’s daang matuwid and will punish erring cops however high up they go. But he says nothing about “erring” including cops who “salvage” suspects. He says nothing about rubout being a crime unto itself, murder unto itself, reprehensible unto itself. He says nothing about cops who are caught executing suspects being automatically fired, prosecuted and where found guilty put away for a very long time. Indeed, his remonstrations with media for allowing themselves to be duped by drug lords is a defense of it, a toleration of it, a justification of it.
About time we drew the line on rubout. Its sheer plethora, of which the recent reports are but the tip of the iceberg, must suggest it is widespread, pervasive and routine. Purisima himself talks about the need to stamp out a culture of corruption among the cops, bad eggs having a way of spreading and spoiling the entire basket. He should start with rubouts. Rubouts are a huge part of that culture of corruption. You won’t find anything more corrupt, corrupting and corruptible.
Whether the cops who “salvage” suspects do so to avoid being implicated in their crimes—dead men tell no tales—or merely out of expedience or sadism or kursunada doesn’t really matter. The first merely adds another layer to the crime. The rubout is itself a crime. It foments and deepens and spreads the culture of impunity. A police force that executes suspects routinely is scarier than a syndicate that executes civilians who get in their way routinely. Power is the most vicious drug of all, it addles the brain far more violently than heroin or shabu.
Media turn cops into villains when they report rubouts? The public turns cops into monsters when it complains about rubouts?
Not at all. The cops who do this do a good job of it all by themselves.