Rogue cops on Edsa
Was anyone the least bit surprised that the suspects behind that Sept. 1 incident on Edsa involving armed men surrounding an SUV turned out to be cops? The photo immediately caused a sensation when it surfaced on Twitter, partly because of the mystery surrounding it. Who were these men aiming guns at the occupants of the SUV? Was it a legitimate police operation, perhaps against a high-profile fugitive? Or a kidnapping, done so brazenly in broad daylight on that ultrabusy highway?
The fact that there was no police report on the incident many hours after the photo had gone viral deepened the mystery. What the photo indicated was a meticulously planned operation—three vehicles plus a motorcycle hemming in the white SUV and forcing it to stop, and men with drawn guns then surrounding it. One of the men had a pair of handcuffs on his belt, which was an immediate clue: He must be a plainclothes policeman. The vehicles’ plate numbers were clear. But for hours and even days later, no victim came forward to complain. Was there a conspiracy to keep the incident under wraps?
Credit must be given to officers of the Eastern Police District for taking up the case and quickly solving the mystery. The men with guns were policemen, mostly from the La Loma precinct in Quezon City. According to accounts of the heist, the cops waylaid the white SUV, took into custody its two passengers, employees of a construction company in Mindanao, and divested them of some P2 million reportedly intended for buying heavy equipment. The victims were also forced to withdraw more cash from their ATM accounts. They were taken to the La Loma station and held there for seven hours, then released with the warning that they would be killed if they so much as squeaked about their ordeal.
What the rogue cops didn’t reckon with was that someone on the highway had been alert enough to take a photo of their “hulidap” operation. And, following that, a police officer—EPD’s Chief Supt. Abelardo Villacorta—resourceful enough to investigate the case based on the photo and to confront the perpetrators once he had the goods on them. The La Loma station deputy commander, Chief Insp. Joseph de Vera, was the first to be arrested. Charges have been brought against him and his cohorts.
If the brass think this is a black eye on the Philippine National Police, they’re wrong; it’s a virtual body blow, and only the most recent in a never-ending cascade of stories about cops becoming the very criminals they are sworn to hunt down.
In the same week that the La Loma cops took the spotlight, for example, a Korean tourist came forward to accuse four Manila police officers of trying to extort as much as P100,000 from him after he fought with a fellow Korean inside a restaurant, reportedly over an unpaid debt. Brought to the Manila Police District headquarters, Cho Yong Woo said the cops threatened him with jail unless he produced the amount, which went down to P30,000 from the original P100,000.
The typical defense of the PNP hierarchy in the face of such incidents is that these are isolated cases, and that anyway all efforts are being exerted to clean up the ranks. But are these efforts working? Take the purported mastermind of the Edsa heist, Senior Insp. Oliver Villanueva, who is still at large. The man’s personal data sheet for 2013 showed that he was worth P6.5 million—down from P7.3 million in 2012. How did he manage to amass that much? Is it possible for a senior inspector to become a multimillionaire on a cop’s salary without anyone else in the organization noticing? Or has Villanueva become this prosperous because others like him up and down the line also benefited in various degrees from whatever criminal enterprises they were engaged in? How many times have Villanueva et al. pulled off heists like the Edsa “hulidap,” before a single inadvertent photo of their latest caper tripped them up?
It has been noted that a number of the suspects are graduates of the PNP Academy. What’s going on out there that its products turn out this way? Other PNP Academy graduates have since disowned the rogue cops, but would subsequent values formation seminars be enough when police recruits are steeped in a dysfunctional training environment before they are let loose on society?
By their fruits ye shall know them. What the PNP needs is nothing less than a top-to-bottom overhaul.
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