Restoring trust in our ‘Nation’s Finest’
In his oathtaking as the 23rd chief of the Philippine National Police, Gen. Archie Gamboa, a lawyer, addressed his over 200,000-strong organization with the following challenge: “Simulan muna natin ang pagbabago sa ating mga sarili. We cannot implement the rule of law if we ourselves violate the law.”
Even prior to the Duterte administration, the PNP had faced many criticisms over issues of corruption, such that its trust ratings with the public have generally remained lower than that of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. More allegations of abuse would surface with the PNP’s implementation of the administration’s anti-illegal drugs campaign. A recent Social Weather Stations survey showed that 76 percent of Filipinos saw “many” human rights abuses in the government’s war on illegal drugs, while another survey found that 78 percent of respondents believe there are “ninja cops.”
Very few (if any) of our government agencies have exposed themselves to evaluation over the years. To their credit, the PNP leadership has taken the bold and unprecedented step of partnering with the Ateneo School of Government to empirically examine the possible root causes of governance failures in the PNP’s ranks. For months, General Gamboa and the PNP top brass gave our small research team unprecedented access and cooperation to undertake research on police performance. Our research diagnosed what factors both build and erode leadership and performance within the ranks, especially among younger officers.
Our research exposed the need for a deeper analysis of recruitment and selection policies, to ensure that the PNP successfully attracts the strongest candidates with the right leadership characteristics for service. This could involve a more formal collaboration not just with the Philippine National Police Academy but with other schools and criminology colleges as well, since the bulk of personnel in the PNP are actually not graduates of the PNPA. Partnerships with these schools could focus on examining and improving both their recruitment and their academic and training programs so that students are better selected and trained even before they graduate and compete to enter the PNP.
It is also crucial to develop a competency-based leadership development mechanism—involving training, deployment, and promotion—to ensure that PNP recruits possess the right skills to fulfill their mandate more effectively. This could better inform the PNP’s training programs and reinforce the culture of performance and meritocracy in the organization.
We also found that a more positive influencing environment or “subculture” is associated with stronger performance. This entails strengthening the good subcultures that cohere with the ideal organizational culture, and at the same time, addressing the issues of the bad subcultures. For example, “My brother’s keeper” or “squadding” is identified as an innovation that created good subcultures. On the other hand, the organization may look into reforming the “bata-bata” system, which may have been initially useful but now breeds patronage and is used for personal gains, such as protection and promotion. Good subcultures may be reinforced by finding ways to institutionalize and further root these practices within the organization.
Informed in part by our study, the PNP recently launched Project “Tarung” (Visayan word for discipline and root word of kataru-
ngan)—a holistic and ecosystem-based reform program in the PNP. The project acknowledges the need to improve and develop well-rounded human resources through moral (revitalized internal cleansing program), physical (BMI initiative), and spiritual (interfaith squad system) formation. It is a strong step in the right direction, and we need to keep building on this reform as well as the evidence informing it.
The PNP’s main asset is its people—and strengthening its leadership and personnel pipeline is the most important building block toward its operational success in any mission theater, which spans combating illegal drugs and terrorism to working with local governments and communities to uphold the rule of law. The PNP’s fight against corruption is most likely its most critical battle in years to come, because public trust and cooperation are the most crucial ingredients for more effective police work.
This is a battle the PNP need not fight alone. It could partner with key stakeholders to help strengthen the institution and increase its chances for more effective change management. The Ateneo School of Government is pleased to support this recalibration to plant the seeds for sustained reforms.
Ronald U. Mendoza is dean of the Ateneo School of Government, and Ariza T. Francisco is deputy director of the Ateneo Policy Center. This article draws on a new study by the Ateneo Policy Center that can be downloaded here: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3542046
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