“Bring back police to their rightful place—patrolling the streets and establishing police presence in the community” was the answer of Philippine National Police Director General Ricardo Marquez when asked what he wanted to do in the brief months remaining in his tenure as chief of the PNP.
In many ways, what Marquez wishes seems to be to return the police to their “old” place in the community, a reassuring presence on the streets, an “old-fashioned” relationship with community members, and an even more hoary concept: a stature of respect that has long been replaced by one of widespread contempt, if not fear.
Guesting yesterday at the media forum “Bulong Pulungan sa Sofitel,” Marquez expressed his desire to establish a renewed relationship with the public, where the police and private individuals cooperate and help each other, and where law enforcers feel as accountable to their “real bosses,” the public, as to their commanding officers.
For now, Marquez is proudest of what he calls “a peculiar anticrime model” that goes by the name of “Oplan Lambat Sibat.” It is a brainchild of former interior secretary (and now presidential candidate) Mar Roxas and what police top honchos describe as “an anticrime strategy [of] proactive police operations” that, in a month’s time, netted 39 wanted persons in separate operations. A report says Oplan Lambat Sibat is “in line with the current operational thrust of PNP against organized crime groups, wanted persons, anti-illegal drugs and loose firearms.” The aim seems to be to go after “big fish” who are seen as controlling and directing the criminal activities of smaller gangs and individual crooks.
But Marquez is also aware that his work at the helm of the national police force involves not just chasing after criminals but also cracking down on the men and women under his command.
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First on his list of “must-do’s” is putting police record-keeping in order, making sure the claims of commanders tally with actual incidents on the ground.
“I am fielding auditors to police stations to make sure the figures submitted to the central office tally with the number of incidents reported at the precinct level,” he said. Such an audit has been taking place in the last 15 months in Metro Manila and Southern Tagalog, and he plans to make the audit nationwide.
Marquez, however, is the first to admit to a number of obstacles that stand in the way of more efficient and effective law enforcement. He is determined to establish what he calls “barangay-based antidrug operations” since illegal drugs are, he says, “the biggest complaint and problem we encounter in the communities.” The police, he adds, “need to address street-level pushing and involve the community.”
But the hands of the PNP are tied. Currently, under the law, antidrug operations lie in the hands of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), which is under the Office of the President, and police only play a supporting role, if at all. “What we need is a permanent antidrug unit in the PNP,” he says, which is one of the reforms contained in a draft bill on the modernization and reorganization of the national police force. But given the realities of the coming elections and the convoluted procedures in Congress, Marquez doesn’t see such a bill coming to fruition anytime soon, or at least before he retires next year.
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Another frustration of Marquez’s is that “the training of our men and women is out of our hands.” Instead, the PNP Academy, now under the authority of the Philippine Public Safety College, takes care of training future police personnel and orienting them on police operations. “This is a big disconnect,” remarks Marquez, noting that “conflict resolution on the streets,” a big part of a police officer’s duty, is not part at all of the police academy curriculum.
Tied to this problem is the lack of recruits or qualified personnel. Ideally, says Marquez, the ratio between police and the general population should be 1:500 or even 250. But in the country today, he notes, there are approximately 160,000 police, which makes for a ratio of 1:700. “We need about 28-30 thousand recruits at this time,” says Marquez, “although the law only allows us about 10,000 recruits a year.”
But even this low number the PNP is hard put to meet, says Marquez. Although the starting salary of a rookie is “competitive” at P23,000 a month, “only a few college graduates apply, since many seem to think a foot patrolman (a police rookie’s first assignment) is too lowly for them.” Currently, the number of women in the PNP total about 15 percent of the force, and as to the possibility of aggressively courting more women as recruits to the police force, Marquez says “operational challenges” stand in the way of a more integrated and diverse police force.
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When P-Noy talked to him about possibly heading the PNP, Marquez says he was given only three basic “orders”: increase police visibility in the streets, institute a “merit-based” selection system, and ensure that in next year’s elections “the will of our bosses is followed.” That means, he adds, that “the police should concentrate on law enforcement and avoid politics altogether,” making sure that “the will of the voters is freely expressed and the voting is carried out in as peaceful and orderly a manner as possible.”
Marquez, who caught the President’s attention when he headed the security preparations for Pope Francis’ visit (he will fulfill the same role during the Apec Summit in November), is obviously a man who does what he sets out to do. And that goes beyond securing a dignitary’s safety, to ensuring the safety and security of all Filipinos.
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