Three crimes seem to have been committed in Camp Crame, now nicknamed by many as Camp Crime. The first is the kidnapping and murder of Korean businessman Jee Ick Joo. The second is what looks like a cover-up operation being mounted by criminal policemen. The third is the lack of accountability by the top officials of the Philippine National Police, not just for this incident but what are likely similar cases that have been occurring in the last few months, arguably a criminal offense as well under our graft and corruption laws.
It is unfortunate that President Duterte has quickly exonerated PNP Chief Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, dousing speculation that would be compelled to resign in the wake of the slaying of the Korean inside Camp Crame, the headquarters of the PNP. This was a crime committed apparently by uniformed officers a few meters from De La Rosa’s office and residence.
The President stamped his foot to calls for Bato’s resignation when he told the latter not to resign but to continue doing his work. Bato enjoyed his full trust, he said.
It is clear that the President is satisfied with Bato’s performance and that he would stand by him come hell or high water. In Duterte’s own words: “He stays there. Bato has my complete trust.” This explains why the police general’s response to the call for his resignation by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and others is a confident: “Ask President Rodrigo Duterte to remove me.”
Duterte’s response is reminiscent of his predecessor who, despite the involvement or alleged involvement of some of his men in imbroglios and scandals, would not let go of them to the chagrin of the public. In particular, we recall the stubborn insistence of President Aquino to keep General Alan Purisima at his post. It took the Ombudsman to finally suspend Purisima, and even then, President Aquino continued to rely on Purisima on such sensitive matters as terrorism. We know where that led the country with the massacre of the SAF 44 and the slain Muslims in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
Indeed, there are consequences when basic rules of accountability and command responsibility are not respected.
There is something wrong when there is no more distinction between police operatives and criminals in prosecuting their “jobs”; when police authorities perform their mandate in utter disregard of the rights of the very people whom they are supposed to serve. There is something seriously wrong when salvaging and extra-judicial killings become part of the so-called legitimate police operations. There is something wrong when police and criminals alike take advantage of the war on drugs to cover their tracks or perpetrate their evil agenda. There is something wrong when due process of law is ignored to punish or enforce laws, or state policy. Finally, there is everything wrong when the sacrosanct principles of justice, respect for the rule of law and accountability are swept under the rug by the state to in furtherance of dubious state policies.
Of course, after all is said and done, the buck stops with the President. The thousands of victims, robbed of their humanity and of justice, will be the responsibility principally of the President and, secondarily, of his henchmen, including the Chief PNP.
Without diminishing the role of the President, I emphasize that Bato dela Rosa plays an essential if not a pivotal role in enforcing state policies on peace, order and security. He may well be responsible for its consequences. The recent occurrence in Camp Crame and the runaway cases of EJKs are patent reasons for the Chief PNP to resign. As said by Speaker Alvarez, even Bato’s subordinates have lost respect for him if they have the temerity to do their crimes at the very heart of the PNP. In this case, as Representative Harry Roque is quoted to have observed, the Philippine government is internationally liable as well.
From a human rights point of view, this is also a breakthrough in the investigation of extrajudicial killings. The smoking gun is the testimony that the policeman-turned-witness thought it was a legitimate operation. Strangling a person in a car in Camp Crame can never be a legitimate operation in the same way that killing a young man sleeping in a shanty can never be a legitimate operation.
It’s seems also now to be a pattern —“tokhang for ransom.” Teresita Ang See of the Movement for Restoration of Peace and Order knows of several Chinese nationals who have become victims of the scheme and in all cases paid ransom in exchange for not facing drug-related charges, though they were not in fact involved in illegal drugs.
It’s systematic, the infestation of criminal elements and corruption in the Philippine National Police. For the record, not all officers are tainted and I personally know good and honorable men in police uniform. But even they have always told me that there are bad eggs in their agency. But like in the Bureau of Customs, those bad eggs become bolder when they think they can get away with it. That is what happened here.
It must also be said that criminality and corruption have been systematic for a long time in the PNP, even before the Duterte administration —in fact, long before. But I fear it will become worse because the police, in the war against drugs, have been given absolute immunity and total power. And what do you expect when you give absolute power to the agency that has so many corrupt and criminal elements? Sadly, even the ones who are upright are also now being corrupted. By giving them license to kill pushers and addicts even when clearly illegal, they too are tainted. The price that our police agency and police officials are already paying and will pay in the future for what is happening now will be enormous. Aside from facing multiple human rights cases, reversing the culture of noncompliance with the law will be very difficult.
I actually like General Bato. I thought he, having a doctorate, had both vision and strategy. I even appreciate his showbiz antics as they seem endearing, making him an effective communicator. Being from Mindanao myself, I badly want Bato and President Duterte to succeed.
But with the three crimes committed in Crame, Bato has lost the respect of his peers in the police and the military. And the public, minus the die-hard supporters, will no longer believe anything he says.
Tokhang now will be forever attached to ransom and murder; the war against illegal drugs is now clearly transformed as the opportunity for criminal elements in the police to make money. Telling the police to kill the criminals, because that means police officers killing each other, cannot solve this. They won’t do that. They are classmates in the Philippine Military Academy or the Philippine National Police Academy, and classmates don’t turn against each other.
Three crimes were committed in Crame. Most likely, these three crimes were not the first time and were not stand-alone. Most likely, they will be repeated. Think about that and where that will lead the country.
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