The results may be self-evident, but the Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey released this week gave quantitative confirmation of how extensive a common public perception is — that scalawags abound in the country’s police force.
And what eye-popping numbers: As many as 78 percent of 1,200 respondents in the poll conducted from Dec. 13-16, 2019, said that they believe there are “ninja cops” — law enforcers said to recycle or sell illegal drugs seized in drug operations — in the Philippine National Police.
The term gained currency in September 2019 during a Senate hearing that put then PNP chief Gen. Oscar
Albayalde on the spot after he was accused of coddling 13 police officers who allegedly recycled drugs seized in a police raid in Mexico, Pampanga, when he headed the provincial police. The controversy forced Albayalde to step down just weeks before his retirement.
Half, or 50 percent of the SWS respondents agreed that the former police chief was a “protector” of ninja cops, after it was disclosed that he had intervened and managed to have the sanctions on erring junior cops reduced from outright dismissal to mere transfer to other postings.
The 2019 survey results tell more damning tales: Majority of Filipinos, for one, also believe the police are involved in both the illegal drug trade and extrajudicial killings (EJKs).
According to the poll, 23 percent think “very many” cops are involved in the drug trade, while 44 percent answered “somewhat many,” making for 67 percent.
And on the subject of EJKs, the latest numbers echo those of a similar nationwide poll conducted from Dec. 16-19 in 2018, with the results released in February 2019.
In that survey, most respondents, or 66 percent, said they believe police are involved in EJKs. And a crushing majority of 95 percent said drug suspects have to be captured alive — an indictment of the police narrative of suspects often ending up dead after they supposedly fought it out with the cops.
Also, in that 2018 survey, not only did 68 percent of respondents believe that police themselves are involved in the illegal drug trade; 58 percent also believe that police plant evidence to frame drug suspects.
These are mortifying numbers, and the widespread public sentiment of suspicion and distrust undergirding them is not helped any by the PNP’s stubborn refusal to submit complete and comprehensive reports on its drug operations, despite a Supreme Court order for the Office of the Solicitor General to release the documents to the lawyers of the families of EJK victims.
Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) chair Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno, one of the EJK families’ counsels, had protested in April last year that the first batch of police reports turned over to them were incomplete, with relevant documents “not made available.”
More strikingly, the reports employed “almost verbatim” and “cut-and-paste” language to describe the deaths of different suspects. FLAG also discovered two cases where the same firearm was used to kill different persons.
Police notoriety, as underscored by the latest survey, is at an all-time high. The PNP’s record-low credibility translates to a grave social problem: Who can a distrustful, skeptical public turn to in reporting crime and asking for redress? And how expect citizens to cooperate in observing the law when the police themselves—“officers of the law,” they are called—are seen as the first to violate them?
While the President has repeatedly railed against police corruption, he has also been transparent in favoring officers — such as Albayalde, who eased into retirement with no sanctions for his past behavior, and other erring cops with questionable records who were even rewarded with promotions, or were at the very least publicly assured that the President had their back.
The biggest “star” of them all, if you will, is now a senator—former PNP chief Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, whose stint will forever be associated with the gruesome killing of Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo in 2016. Jee was kidnapped by policemen during a purported drug operation, held for ransom then strangled to death inside his van parked right inside Camp Crame, the national police headquarters no less, on a spot a stone’s throw away from Dela Rosa’s office.
What does the President make, if at all, of this and the perceived continuing mockery by the police force of his centerpiece domestic agenda?
Inquirer columnist and SWS president Mahar Mangahas calls the citizenry’s perception of the “ninja cops” issue “a serious stain on the reputation of the Philippine National Police.”
That’s an understatement. The stain is a massive blemish that the good men and women in the PNP’s ranks—surely there are still many of them — should be agonizing over these days.
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