Police drama

Like a scene straight out of a cringeworthy B movie, a fuming Police Director Guillermo Eleazar was caught on camera last week dressing down Police Officer 2 Marlo Quibete of the Eastern Police District drug enforcement unit, who had been arrested in an entrapment operation for allegedly extorting P200,000 from the family of a drug suspect.

Scratch that caught-on-camera bit. The apoplectic Eleazar seemed, in fact, to have been deliberately playing for the cameras as he repeatedly grabbed the face of the handcuffed Quibete to force the cop to look at him. He collared Quibete, grabbed his hair and pointed a finger in his face, while shouting “P—ina mo!”

It’s become an all-too-familiar spectacle with Eleazar, chief of the National Capital Region (NCR) Police Office. Just a few days later, he was at it again, berating PO1 Ferdinand Rafael in full TV drama mode; Rafael, arrested for supposedly selling “shabu,” was upbraided for not knowing the names of his superiors.

Last year, Eleazar publicly bawled out a cop who had reportedly raped a minor in exchange for the freedom of her parents suspected of being drug pushers. And in February this year, Eleazar scolded before media and fellow police officers the Chinese student who had thrown taho at a cop stationed at the MRT 3 Boni station.

Eleazar’s public displays of suspects’ humiliation may have drawn some withering criticism, but he has also won support from, among others, President Duterte. “Okay iyon,” said the President in a speech. “Sabihin mo, I have his back covered.”

Naturally, the big boss’ lieutenants had to follow, and so Interior Secretary Eduardo Año was likewise heard justifying Eleazar’s actions as “understandable” — a “manifestation of his frustration” over police scalawags who supposedly give the entire force a bad name.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) disagreed. “Much as we understand the frustration of General Eleazar,” it said, “we would not want this to also guide the work of other police officers kasi tinitingala siya at baka gayahin or baka mas malala (because he’s looked up to and might be emulated for the worse) in the next instance,” said CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia.

The President’s partisans would no doubt dismiss the CHR’s warning as the usual misdirected twaddle (“What about the victims’ rights!?”).

But it’s a valid point. Eleazar is mandated by his job as a police officer — one of the country’s highest law enforcers, in fact — to be the epitome of decorum and professionalism. His sworn duty includes respecting the basic rights of suspects brought before him, whether it’s erring policemen or petty criminals.

What would be next after his displays of undisciplined anger, after all? Draw and quarter the errant cop, or anybody else caught on mere suspicion, because he or she “deserved it”?

Now, imagine all other police chiefs below him across the country taking their cue from Eleazar’s applauded histrionics and heavy-handedness, but this time away from the TV cameras since not all police quarters are as media-savvy or accessible as the NCR post.

The abuse may well go beyond theatrical spleen; the torture and abuse of suspects, in fact, has been a common complaint against the police.

And when suspects in such less telegenic places and circumstances end up battered, or worse, by their police captors, would Eleazar be as glowingly appreciative of his men’s efforts?

Would he countenance their abuse and excesses, the way his showboating performances so far have gotten raves from officialdom?

Or, might it not be better for the Philippine National Police as a whole to step up its “internal cleansing” and leave the dispensing of justice to the courts? Rather than taking the law, or a crude variant of it, into his own hands, Eleazar should, for instance, channel his fervor toward ensuring that proper cases are filed against wayward cops and other suspects and seeing through to their conviction, instead of shuffling them around or subjecting them to unnecessary displays of thespic frenzy.

He should be reminded that the people’s sentiments about the police force are just about dismal, according to the December 2018 Social Weather Stations survey.

Most Filipinos believe cops themselves are involved in the illegal drug trade, in extrajudicial killings and the planting of evidence against suspects.

Going by Eleazar’s example, should exasperated citizens be allowed, too, from time to time — as a “manifestation of their frustration” — to scream abuse at and grab the hair of their favorite erring cops? An absurd, even felonious notion — so why permit Eleazar to preen this way?