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Albayalde’s terrible legacy

/ 04:06 AM October 01, 2019

The chief of the Philippine National Police, Gen. Oscar Albayalde, is said to be wondering why scandals tainting his name are now circulating, less than two months before he retires on Nov. 8. In particular, he said he has been vexed by the new focus on old issues.

“I cannot understand. I don’t know why this came out just a few weeks before my retirement,” he told reporters in Baguio City over the weekend. He was referring to the so-called “ninja cops” controversy, which involves the illegal recycling of seized drugs by police officers, and his own responsibility, as the police chief in Pampanga in 2014, for an irregular antinarcotics operation in that province.

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Today’s hearing at the Senate may help sharpen the focus on these issues, and clarify why his name has been dragged into the mud. But in fact, Albayalde, who developed a reputation for being a strict disciplinarian when he was chief of police for Metro Manila, may be only reaping the inevitable harvest of an undisciplined approach to law enforcement.

About a year before he became the country’s top policeman, I wrote in this space about the disaster that was his predecessor. “No chief of the Philippine National Police has brought as much disgrace and discredit to the institution he heads as Ronald ‘Bato’ dela Rosa, a likeable enough police officer promoted beyond his capacity and competence.” In marshalling the arguments against Dela Rosa, I made it a point to quote the remarks of the Speaker then, Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez. Dela Rosa had trivialized his office (more “interested in having a show biz career”), he had politicized it (“buckle down to work”), and his failure of leadership had created subcultures of impunity (“the commission of a heinous crime right [under] his very nose”—here Alvarez is referring to the murder, in Camp Crame, of Korean national Jee Ick-joo).

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When Albayalde was promoted to national police chief, part of the public expectation was that he would prove to be Dela Rosa’s antithesis: focused on work, not interested in celebrity; a true leader — not a mere blustering bully — of men.

Since April 2018, it has become clear that Albayalde is different from Dela Rosa, but only in that he does not seek the limelight; there is no police mascot named after him, he does not hobnob with movie stars or aging boxers, but he has continued to politicize law enforcement in the Philippines. And if today’s Senate blue ribbon committee hearing lives up to its billing, Albayalde may have also signally failed to stop the subcultures of impunity in the national police organization.

The obverse of Albayalde’s stern demeanor, his disciplinarian streak, is the subjective nature of his dedication to the pursuit of law. I mean to say: Like Dela Rosa, he has a politicized understanding of law and order. When President Duterte revoked the presidential amnesty granted to Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV in August last year, Albayalde was ready to arrest the opposition leader even without an arrest warrant. When former first lady Imelda Marcos, the other half of the conjugal Marcos dictatorship and a political ally of President Duterte, was convicted on seven counts of graft and, after some delay, issued a warrant of arrest in November, Albayalde turned coy and cautious. “We have to take into consideration the edad, the age,” the country’s police chief said.

This exposes the emptiness of the disciplinarian ideal that Albayalde seeks to project; what is police discipline, after all, if its exercise is dependent on Lady Justice peeking through her blindfold? It signals to the police force that the law is not to be followed, but rather bent to the needs of the powers that be. And it further corrodes the people’s trust in the police.

The administration gloats every time the survey results about the popular support for the war on drugs hit the headlines. But it keeps a deathly silence when the other results are published: that about three-fourths of voting-age Filipinos fear that they or someone they know will be the next EJK victim; that over 90 percent want suspects to be taken alive; that only between 5 and 10 percent of Filipino voters definitely believe the police when the police claim that a suspect was killed because he fought back.

Those are the statistics that give the lie to the feel-good narrative about police performance; they are also the state of public perception, and the grim reality, that explain the surfacing of the scandals that now, and for all time, haunt Albayalde.

On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand, email: [email protected]

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TAGS: Bato dela Rosa, drug war, john Nery, Newsstand, ninja cops, Oscar Albayalde, Ronald dela Rosa
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