Rot in the system
Loyalty has its merits, sure. But President Aquino would have to forgive the public if it rolls its eyes at yet another instance of him peremptorily dismissing concerns about the performance of a subordinate. This time, public anger has been directed at Philippine National Police Director General Alan Purisima for the spate of brazen crimes that show not only a breakdown of law and order but, even more alarmingly, the involvement of police officers themselves in criminal activities.
To suggestions that Purisima resign over the activities of rogue cops under his watch, the President had the usual peevish retort: “Might I ask: Is this the first time that we have seen scalawags in the police? It might be true that there are some scalawags in uniform, but who, after all, caught those who held up a businessman [on] Edsa? It was the police, as well, under the leadership of General Purisima who investigated, pursued, and caught those lawless elements—who, today, are facing the appropriate [charges]. On top of this, a plethora of crimes has already been solved, including high-profile cases. In the light of this, is it fair to call on General Purisima to resign when he is leading a police force that fulfills [its] responsibilities?”
Well, yes. How, in the first place, did those scalawags in uniform spread in the force undetected for so long? Lowlifes do not spring fully formed, at the peak of their dubious skills, in an instant. They are obviously the products of an environment that taught them that cutting corners has its rewards, however illicit, and that the possession of a badge and a gun in these parts can be a license to engage in nefarious activities. Those police officers who held up and extorted more than P2 million from the drivers of a white van on Edsa were well-practiced in their dark craft; they were, in fact, counting on their mastery of their well-oiled “hulidap” ways to carry out yet another shakedown—but for the intrepid person who was at the right place at the right time to shoot the now-famous photo that busted their criminal enterprise.
The President has it backwards. True, Purisima et al. deserve credit for hunting down the rogue cops, throwing the book at them, and vowing once again to root out every blackguard in the police force. But hunting down their own is not supposed to be the police’s main duty. The PNP’s task is to enforce the law and go after criminals, and not to spawn its own set of lawbreakers. What pride can the government feel in knowing that the police, on top of chasing the thousand and one degenerates from whom they are sworn to defend society, must now also set their sights on their fellow cops and wonder who among them are in cahoots with criminal syndicates?
Many, in fact, may have gone beyond wondering and wearily accepted the rot in the system: A report says the police hierarchy has known for decades of a “quota” system in the PNP in which lower-rank officers are expected to produce a certain amount every month if they want to be considered for promotion by their superiors. The report has no names for now, but it goes a long way toward explaining the culture of extortion, mulcting and chicanery that seems to pervade every stratum of the law-enforcement sector from lowly traffic enforcers to the top brass (remember the “euro generals” scandal, which saw 12 former and active ranking PNP officials charged by the Ombudsman with malversation of funds).
That report, however sketchy, deserves further scrutiny. But if the President himself has declared his continuing trust and confidence in the so-called good job that Purisima and the rest of the PNP are doing, would anyone be obligated to investigate the matter? Mr. Aquino need not fire Purisima, if he finds that step too drastic. But he needs to bear down on the PNP chief, and demand accountability and explanation for the rash of criminal incidents that have spooked the citizenry and suggested that no one is firmly in charge of keeping the peace.
If the cops themselves are now the criminals who have to be ferreted out by their fellow cops, that is not a testament to a police force in good shape. That indicates an appalling breakdown in the very institution sworn to enforce discipline, order and the power of the law in public life. How can a police force at war with itself effectively fulfill its responsibilities? We’re seeing the sorry answer these days.
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