National police chief Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa has indeed upped his game. On orders from President Rodrigo Duterte, Bato has taken the fight against illegal drugs and criminality to the next level, announcing that this time, he will go after policemen involved in all sorts of crime.
On several occasions, I’ve written that Duterte’s much-ballyhooed anti-crime campaign is doomed to fail if he doesn’t go after the corrupt policemen who not only serve as protectors of criminals but who have also decided to go into a life of crime themselves. Proving their resourcefulness and ability to adapt, these crooked cops have even repurposed Duterte’s fight against drugs in a bid to cover their tracks by liquidating their own “assets” and—as in the case of that unfortunate South Korean businessman—to use the campaign to find new sources of ill-gotten income.
I hope Dela Rosa’s drive against criminal cops succeeds, even if I don’t think the odds favor victory. If Duterte’s own claim that upwards of 40 percent of all policemen are corrupt is correct, Bato will have to arrest, charge, dismiss and convict nearly half of all cops—a nightmare scenario for even the most determined of police reformers.
But it’s not as if it hasn’t been done before. Most law enforcement historians point to the example of the Hong Kong police, who were once even more corrupt than the Philippine variety, as the prime example of how even the worst law enforcement organizations can be reformed.
At the end of World War II, the Hong Kong police started to develop the unenviable reputation as one of the most corrupt law enforcement agencies in all of Asia. But by 1974, Hong Kongers had had enough—they pushed their British governors to do something about the problem of corruption in the police and all other branches of the colonial government and the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) was born.
In just over a decade and using a no-nonsense combination of prosecution and conviction, forced retirement and even amnesty for minor forms of corruption, ICAC transformed the Hong Kong bureaucracy in general—and the colony’s police force in particular—into one of the most admired and respected in Asia and the rest of the world.
Several years back, before ICAC lost some of its luster with the appointment of controversial chief Donald Tsang, Hong Kong residents regularly rated their police force in the eighties in satisfaction. Crime statistics fell to negligible levels and complaints about corruption in the police force virtually disappeared.
ICAC’s success is even more noteworthy because it went against the Chinese practice of giving bribes and all sorts of gifts to government officials and policemen. It is also worth pointing out that, just like in the Philippines, the Hong Kong Chinese often made a distinction between ordinary crimes that should be punished severely and the “victimless” variety like gambling, prostitution and other vices, whose operators the police routinely considered fair game for extortion.
The job of reforming the police force in the Philippines is no less challenging than the one that confronted ICAC in the seventies. But because ICAC never compromised with criminals in uniform and in the government service—and because it was given wide-ranging, independent authority to get the job done —the agency was hailed as a great success.
Dela Rosa’s creation of an ICAC-like agency to police the national police force, christened the Counter-Intelligence Task Force and headed by Superintendent Chiquito Manalo, is a good start. Let’s see if the Duterte administration will go after corrupt and criminal law enforcers with the same gusto that it has pursued suspected drug pushers and users in the seven months or so that it has been in office.
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If I were President Duterte, I’d consider former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile’s offer to serve as private prosecutor in the cases that the government may file against former President Noynoy Aquino concerning the infamous Mamasapano Massacre of 2015. I’m not a fan of Enrile’s, haven’t been since he voted with the Aquino-supported majority in the Senate to convict the late Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona; but that doesn’t mean that the former senator from Cagayan will not be able to contribute to the effort to hold Aquino—as the Senate once found—ultimately responsible for the killing of the 44 Special Action Force commandos two years ago.
I take particular interest in Enrile’s declaration that Aquino can be held accountable for treason and for aiding and abetting sworn enemies of the state when he allowed the commandos to die at the hands of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front by refusing to send in reinforcements. And I’d certainly like to see the still-sprightly Enrile demolish Aquino’s long-held argument that only former SAF commander General Getulio Napeñas should be held liable for the carnage because no chain of command existed that could link the president to the ill-fated Oplan Exodus.
At the advanced age of 93, I don’t think Enrile will have any reason to take on the job of Aquino’s prosecutor other than the get to the bottom of the incident. What’s more, I think that despite his age, Enrile still is in possession of all his mental faculties and the first-class legal mind that he has long been famous for.
I say give Enrile the chance to redeem himself by going after Aquino.