Why the PNP needs a full-time chief now

Bea Cupin
Why the PNP needs a full-time chief now
President Benigno Aquino III has not yet filled in the nearly 4-month vacancy in the PNP, crucial to the 'operational effectiveness' of the 150,000-strong police force

CAVITE, Philippines – The Philippine National Police (PNP) on Thursday, March 26, welcomed 225 new Police Inspectors, graduates of the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA), to its 150,000-strong force. 

Young, idealistic, and excited over the years they will devote to the uniformed service, the young police lieutenants enter a police force at a crossroads, reeling from the effects of a botched operation that claimed the lives of 67, including 44 of their own, and the long wait for a new PNP chief. 

Almost 4 months after the suspension of its chief, and two months since the controversial “Oplan Exodus,” the officer-in-charge of the PNP says it’s definitely time for a full-time chief.

At the sidelines of the PNPA graduation, Police Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina told reporters having a mere OIC at the helm of the police force was affecting the organization.

“Somehow it does, at least on the administrative side. An OIC like me – and we pointed this out to higher authorities – has limited powers, no discretionary powers You can’t appoint people to permanent or regular positions,” Espina told reporters at Camp General Mariano Castañeda, responding to questions.

As OIC, Espina can only appoint OICs to fill crucial positions in the police force, such as regional and provincial chiefs.

In a previous interview with Rappler, former PNP chief and senator Panfilo Lacson said officials who are merely OICs “hesitate.”

“It is affecting even the operational effectiveness of the PNP. It is affecting the morale, it is affecting some administrative matters because some documents will not move as efficiently when the ones holding the positions are on permanent status,” Lacson said during a #RapplerTalk interview.

Being an OIC also affects the careers of police officials. Time spent as an OIC, even of crucial positions, does not count in an officer’s “time and position,” which they need to further their careers.

Asked if his subordinates were growing restless over the lack of an acting or full-time chief, the police general said he has yet to hear of any instances. “As far as I’m concerned we need to have a regular chief, PNP.”

Espina admitted the same thing almost two months ago, just before Purisima resigned as PNP chief.

4 months without a chief

Espina was appointed OIC of the PNP in December 2014, after Police Director General Alan Purisima’s preventive suspension over a graft case.

In his almost 4 months as the PNP top cop, Espina has had to deal with the police force’s biggest crisis yet: the aftermath of Oplan Exodus, the police operation that has shaken the Aquino administration and imperiled peace negotiations with Moro rebels.

Purisima, a close friend of the President’s, resigned as PNP chief following reports of his involvement in the deadly clash. (READ: Police probers: Purisima acted without authority)

The 4-star general denied he commanded the operation despite his suspension but public testimonies and reports by the PNP’s Board of Inquiry (BOI) and a Senate committee investigating the clash have shown he was, in fact, a “key player” in the operation – sitting in briefings prior to the mission and giving updates, including inaccurate ones – on the day of the operation itself.

President Benigno Aquino III, according to the the BOI and Senate investigations, “allowed” Purisima’s participation in the operation, despite knowing of his suspension.

Sacked Special Action Force chief Police Director Getulio Napeñas has also been found liable for working with and reporting to a suspended police general during Oplan Exodus.

“I cannot see the wisdom in not appointing a permanent or even an acting chief PNP.”

– Former PNP chief Panfilo “Ping” Lacson

 

The set-up of the PNP then – with Purisima as a suspended PNP chief and Espina as OIC – is said to have contributed to the “confusion” in Oplan Exodus.

Despite his suspension, several police generals remained loyal to Purisima and continued to follow his orders. Sources in the PNP said even the flow of the police force’s finances then were affected by Purisima, who had appointed his men to key positions in the PNP.

Espina acknowledged as much during a Command Conference with top PNP officials on February 5. (READ: Crisis before Mamasapano: A tale of 2 PNP chiefs)

Huwag na mag-speculate, huwag na mag-anticipate….Plebo kayo lahat dati eh. Yung kaka-anticipate, kaka-speculate, minamalas yun eh. Kaya kung ngayong araw, eh OIC tayo, follow that. Do not be confused. Yung iba nag-coconfuse-confuse-an, nagkakagulo tuloy. Yung iba sobrang anticipation, nagkakagulo tuloy,” Espina said then.

(Stop speculating and anticipating. You were all [plebes in the PMA] once. Those who anticipate and speculate too much end up at the losing end. So if today I’m OIC, follow that. Some of you pretend to be confused, anticipate too much, that’s why there’s chaos.)

Aquino, in a speech before the PNPA graduates on Thursday, said the divisions in the PNP was one of the many issues the next chief would have to fix. Representative Sherwin Gatchalian, in a statement on Friday, March 26, said the President should have announced a new PNP chief then, in a speech that mas mostly dedicated to addressing his role in the Mamasapano operation

“Now is the best time to appoint a new PNP chief so the transformation taking place in the police force can be sustained and to arrest the demoralization now creeping among the rank and file mainly because of the current leadership vacuum,” said Gatchalian. 

Current and former government officials have been urging Aquino to appoint a new chief, even before Oplan Exodus.

“I cannot see the wisdom in not appointing a permanent or even an acting chief PNP. It’s been what, 3 months? The vetting to chose a chief PNP [is easy because] they have their service reputation, their records. It’s easy to vet. It won’t take you 3 months to vet the next chief PNP,” said Lacson, who previously served in Aquino’s Cabinet as the post-Yolanda rehabilitation chief.

Why the delay?

Espina himself could not offer explanations to Aquino’s perceived delay in picking a new PNP chief, adding that it was “beyond him.” (READ: What’s keeping Aquino from naming new PNP chief?)

But the police general, who currently holds 3 positions in the PNP – as OIC, Deputy Chief for Administation, and Deputy Chief for Operations – said they’ve been relaying to the President the difficulties of having a mere OIC head the PNP.

“He will appoint someone eventually. Very soon, hopefully,” Espina said. (READ: Aquino will choose next PNP chief ‘at right time’ – Roxas)

Under Republic Act 6975, the President, upon the recommendation of the National Police Commission (Napolcom), may chose “from among the most senior and qualified officers in the service.”

But the President is not restricted to current 3-star and two-star generals. He has the discretion to appoint even a Senior Superintendent (equivalent to a military colonel) as PNP chief. 

Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, Napolcom chairman, had previously said that Aquino was done interviewing both Espina and Police Deputy Director General Marcelo Garbo Jr, the PNP’s Chief of Directorial Staff.

Together, Espina and Garbo make up the PNP’s Command Group, which typically has 4 sitting police generals.

RA 6975 also provides that the President cannot pick “any officer who has retired or is retirable within six (6) months from his compulsory retirement age.” Espina turns 56, the mandatory age of retirement, in July this year.

‘Give me time’ 

Espina and Garbo, graduates of the Philippine Military Academy Class (PMA) of 1981, are the most senior and highest-ranking of the current crop of officials.

Police Director Ricardo Marquez from PMA Class of 1982, who heads the Directorate for Operations, is another “contender” for PNP chief.

“[The President told us], just give me time.”

– PNP OIC Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina

 

Marquez’ PMA classmate, Criminal Investigation and Detection Group chief and Board of Inquiry (BOI) chairman Police Director Benjamin Magalong is another contender. It was the BOI which first pointed out the mistakes of Aquino, Purisima, and Napeñas’ in the lead-up to and during Oplan Exodus.

Among the darkhorses in the race is a police general with close ties to Purisima, Police Director Juanito Vaño Jr, head of the Directorate for Logistics.

Chief Superintendent Raul Petrasanta, a friend of the President, is also considered to be a contender. Petrasanta, however, is currently serving a preventive suspension order over his alleged involvement in the sale of AK-47s to communist rebels.

It’s been a long wait for both Espina and the rest of the PNP, and they may have to wait a little longer.

“[The President told us], just give me time,” said Espina. – Rappler.com

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.