Take back the state from military, police
Progressive thinkers and activists around the world have picked up on the Black Lives Matter movement, abbreviated in social media spheres to #BLM, that has powered through the United States and parts of Europe.
But not in the Philippines, which is unusual, considering that our local pop culture has always pegged itself to US trends. But this is also understandable, because we are largely unaware of the struggle of Black lives. Conversely, we ourselves are kept ignorant of the ills that besiege us. The complexities and similarities of both our histories are likely to be lost on us.
But #BLM, its hope for fair treatment among peoples, can resonate with us, especially if we look at how it has sprouted a buffet of entries to the problems of police brutality and the consequent imbalances in having fundamentally flawed police and military forces interacting with society at large.
The Philippines under President Duterte relies heavily on military and police muscle, as most authoritarian governments do. The Duterte Cabinet has 11 ex-military officials, and ex-military appointees in key executive departments up this number to easily more than 40.
Recently, the House’s budget hearing for the Presidential Communications Operations Office under that manic Red-tagger, Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy, was suspended when Badoy’s malicious posts were brought up. The PCOO was asking for a budget of P1.59 billion. Meanwhile, at the Senate, Sen. Frank Drilon questioned the whopping P16.4 billion the Department of Budget and Management was planning to set aside for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, a largely military pursuit.
Days ago, too, scandal-ridden ex-cop Cezar Mancao was appointed as an executive director of the Department of Information and Communications Technology. The breadth of the military and police hold over the Philippine government is undeniable.
And yet, while police and military firepower has grown to gargantuan proportions, the police and military continue to operate in an environment of naiveté, which has them believing in and advancing the well-worn narrative of black and white, a battle between good and evil and no in-betweens, in a world where they are both judge and executioner.
This narrative also has them believing that they only need to weed out the bad eggs in their ranks to perform well. But as evidenced by the shootout in Sulu, both institutions sadly do not know where their respective functions end and begin.
It becomes a much more telling story if we look at how the idea of policing has evolved over the past decades. When Ferdinand Marcos had every Filipino surrender their firearms in 1972, premised on an attempt to dismantle private armies and to consolidate powers in a central government, he also took away the power of local officials to give commands to the Philippine Constabulary assigned to them. The police, from that point, became an enterprise of the national government, answerable only to the president.
This was aggravated under Fidel Ramos and the new Local Government Code, where provisions were set aside for local officials to choose from a roster of police officers the national office in Manila had preselected for them. By adding more red tape and people in the national office to curry favor with, the padrino system is fortified, with the police following a chain of command stemming from Malacañang, while they also attempt at being civil servants in the local government they are assigned to. Naturally, power will remain and thrive in the center and not in the peripheries—not in the longed-for “federal states” on which Mr. Duterte grounded his campaign.
And this is what’s admirable with #BLM. The movement traces police violence to foundational cracks and historical faults. It does not fall into the trap of simply seeing the police as heroes or villains depending on the backdrop, but as an institution that has thrived and floundered because of the larger system in place. Its recommendation? To relegate many of the police’s functions to other arms of the government.
Where to start? The power of the purse. Defund, defund, defund the police.
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DLS Pineda finished his undergrad and master’s degrees in creative writing in UP Diliman. He highly recommends Kolateral, an album featuring music by local artists, and rap duo Run the Jewels and their album RTJ4.
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