Time of reckoning
The order to temporarily stop the Duterte administration’s war on drugs, announced by Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa on Monday morning, was prompted by President Duterte’s instruction, given at 3 a.m. the same day, directing the police organization to take “drastic action.” But the real impetus was created by the scandal involving the late Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo.
The unfortunate Jee was kidnapped by police officers on Oct. 18 in Angeles, Pampanga, and held for ransom; he was killed the same day, inside the national police headquarters in Quezon City. The police officers who killed him demanded ransom anyway; Jee’s wife, Choi Kyung-jin, paid P5 million, not knowing that even then she had already been widowed.
After three months, not hearing anything about her husband or even his situation, Choi Kyung-jin decided to go public. She spoke to the Inquirer to send a message to the President. “I am not after the kidnappers. I am just after my husband,” she said, through an interpreter. “I hope President Duterte uses his public power to find my husband.” The interview took place on Friday, Jan. 6. The story ran, as the main story of the Sunday issue, on Jan. 8.
At first, the story was met by sweeping denials, but very quickly, the police hierarchy confronted stark reality. Dela Rosa said he could melt in shame; other news organizations picked up the story; the Senate blue ribbon committee began an inquiry into the case. And last Sunday, the President named the head of the Anti-Illegal Drugs Group himself, Supt. Rafael Dumlao III, as the mastermind of what the public now has taken to calling a “tokhang for ransom” case.
Fulminating against Dumlao, the President was catholic in his abuse: “You policemen are the most corrupt. You are corrupt to the core. It’s in your system,” Mr. Duterte said. Given that about 40 percent of the PNP was corrupt, he said, he announced that he would restructure the police force. “This time, because of the sordid incident, let me reorganize the system.” He added: “Our enemies here are policemen who are criminals.”
We realize that at least 6,000 people have already perished in the war on drugs; about 2,500 are officially listed as “killed in police operations” or Kipo. Would that public outrage over these killings had been as vocal, as consequential, as that over Jee. But a good man, a person without any criminal dealings, a friend to Filipinos and a long-time resident in the Philippines, has been killed; let his death, this sordid incident the President refers to, not be in vain.
Public horror over the abuses committed in the war on drugs has found a focus; public unease over the role of rogue policemen, previously expressed in nuanced questions in general surveys, has been substantiated.
While admitting a “breakdown in police discipline, otherwise things like these would not have happened,” Dela Rosa could not resist placing the burden on the drug syndicates. “To the drug lords: You have your day. This is your day. You may [have achieved] victory right now, but there is always a time for reckoning.”
This talk is nonsense, because drug syndicates did not kidnap Jee under the guise of an illegal-drugs operation. Police officers themselves, using the President’s war on drugs, committed the appalling crime and compounded it with the even more horrifying strangling of a helpless victim, right inside Camp Crame.
This act of bravado is also illogical, because it is precisely when the police organization is corrupted from within that criminal syndicates flourish; there is a direct correlation. An internal cleansing of the PNP then is actually what should strike fear into the hearts of drug lords and other criminal masterminds. The PNP is cleaning ranks; this IS the time of reckoning.
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