With the impending major reshuffle in the Philippine National Police when Roland dela Rosa becomes its next chief, another blow was dealt the organization when President-elect Rodrigo Duterte asked three unnamed high-ranking police generals to resign due to corruption. He did not elaborate on what exactly these three officers have done. We therefore do not know whether these officers are involved in illegal drugs, illegal gambling or are simply pocketing government funds the good old fashion way, by way of conversion. The current PNP chief Ric Marquez has already said that there was no evidence pointing to any Camp Crame senior officer’s dealing in illegal drugs. Even the incoming PNP chief when interviewed on TV could not provide any specific information on the matter.
This pronouncement of President-elect Duterte is putting every senior officer on edge and they are naturally in a quandary as to what to do. Police corruption is an age-old police problem and finding ways to stop or minimize the problem has been a big challenge for every president. But as we have seen so far, it has been a very difficult undertaking. The outgoing administration of President Benigno Aquino made anti-corruption its mainstay, but Aquino is ending his presidency with his gang of merry thieves a lot richer. When President Fidel V. Ramos took office in 1992, corruption was the underlying reason why under Interior and Local Government Secretary Raffy Alunan, about 63 senior officers of the PNP were made to retire or resign, paving the way for accelerating the promotions of middle-level officers like myself. Maybe the trick is in the method of doing it. President-elect Duterte does not observe the niceties of diplomacy. His profanity is well-known and he says what he wants to say. But even if this method gets the job done, Duterte has to be careful that only corrupt people are targeted and, lest we forget, even these people are entitled to due process.
As an old hand, I have seen how corruption has grown to the monster that it is today. But to a large degree, the PNP as an organization has so far remained true to its duty and that is the maintenance of law and order throughout the land. What has tarnished the PNP’s reputation in a way was the entry of big-time organized crime like illegal gambling and illegal drugs. Illegal gambling used to be local. This meant local gambling operators bribing the local police. But some bright people thought of organizing the operation to become the way it is today—a truly national undertaking involving billions of pesos benefiting politicians, policemen and other entities. It is now very difficult to stop. Part of the reason is that some gambling operators are now in government. Even if the money involved in illegal gambling was huge, this is dwarfed by the money in the illegal drugs trade. As one officer I used to know said once, “I thought the money was in illegal gambling until I was assigned to a narcotics unit.” Even if we knew that illegal gambling was going on under our very noses, there seemed to be a conspiracy of silence. We do not hear anything from the media, local officials and the police. And the public seems to accept this as a fact of life. The illegal drug trade, on the other hand, is altogether a different matter. This has the potential to destroy us as a nation. And the problem is growing. Already there are credible reports of the involvement of foreign organizations operating in the country. In the past several weeks, drug laboratories were raided and almost all were allegedly rented by foreign nationals who were almost always not present when the raids were conducted. Almost always also, if some foreign nationals were caught, they were able to escape or post bail. Why? There are also anecdotal stories about vehicles full of money parked in the metropolis ready to be used to bribe law enforcers in case of arrest of drug dealers. The recent case of a marine officer who was caught when a drug laboratory was raided but was subsequently granted bail is a case in point. What was he really doing there? An undercover operation? But there are procedures to be followed in this kind of operation. This case only raises more questions about the involvement of government personnel in the illegal drugs trade. Has it penetrated to the very core of our law enforcement organizations that we are now on the verge of becoming a narco state like some countries in South America? This is too horrible to even contemplate. But money has a way of corrupting even the best of men. Maybe President-elect Duterte is right to make an exception when it comes to the illegal drug trade. Maybe we really should put to death those big-time drug dealers who will be caught and convicted of drug dealing.
As for dealing with corrupt police officials, the incoming administration seems to be using a different tack than previous administrations. It is also calling on the public to exercise their right of citizen’s arrests to kill known drug dealers. This could be a recipe for disaster. I do believe, however, that once President-elect Duterte becomes the president, he will change. After all, he is supposed to be the first one to enforce the laws of the land. Not the first one to violate them.