Why Aquino is taking time to pick a PNP chief

Bea Cupin
Why Aquino is taking time to pick a PNP chief
President Benigno Aquino III says he wants to rush the appointment of several key government officials – the post of PNP chief included – but he’d rather take his time than have regrets in the end

MANILA, Philippines – Blame it on the “abundance” of mud-slinging in the national police force and the need to sort through the lies and truths.

President Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday, April 28, explained why he needed more time to choose the next chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), telling reporters that he first needs to finish pending “investigations.”

May tinatapos din na mga imbestigasyon, lalo na sa PNP, katakut-takot na batuhan ng putik (We’re wrapping up several investigations, especially in the PNP where there is an abundance of mudslinging),” Aquino told reporters in Malaysia, where he attended the 26th ASEAN Summit.

“I really want to rush all of these, but at the same time, hindi naman ako siguro puwedeng sumang-ayon doon sa maski sino na lang (I cannot just agree to anyone that is recommended to me),” said Aquino, responding to questions about vacancies in the PNP and the Commission on Elections.

Aquino has been criticized for the delay in naming permanent officials to key government positions, the post of PNP chief included. (READ: Why the PNP needs a full-time chief now)

The PNP has been without an acting or full-time chief since December 2014, when Director General Alan Purisima was preventively suspended over a graft case pending before the Ombudsman.

Purisima, a close friend of Aquino’s eventually stepped down as head of the 150,000-strong police force early February, weeks after a botched police operation he played a key role in claimed the lives of over 67 Filipinos, including 44 elite cops.

PNP OIC. PDDG Leonardo Espina during a House of Representatives hearing on the Mamasapano incident. File photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

Since December 2014, the PNP has been headed by an officer-in-charge, Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina.

In a previous interview, Aquino “begged” for the public’s patience as he goes through the process of picking a new PNP chief. Purisima, who was appointed PNP chief late 2013, was not supposed to retire until November 2015.

So ang paniwala ko, kailangang gamitin ‘yung kailangan na oras para makuha yung tama kaysa magmadali na pagsisihan (It’s my belief that have you use as much time as you need so you get it right instead of regretting your decision later on),” said Aquino.

Late March, Espina handed over his “courtesy resignation” but Aquino said his acceptance of the resignation “is pending selecting his replacement.” Espina is set to retire in July 2015, when he turns 56.

‘Appointees need time to prepare’

Aquino has yet to make public his preferences for the post of PNP chief.

But speaking to reporters in Malaysia, Aquino said he wants to sort carefully through truths and baseless accusations.

Gusto mong malaman ito ba, ‘di ba, paninira lang? iIo ba may base? Ito ba totoo? Dahil gusto ko namang makasigurado na ‘yung ilalagay sa pwestong napakasensitibo, lalo na itong parating nating eleksyon ay talagang maaasahan ng taumbayan,” added the President.

(Of course you want to make sure if it’s just an accusation or if it’s based on something solid. Is this true? I want to make sure that whoever I put in this very sensitive position – especially given the coming elections– can be trusted by the public.)

The President emphasized the need for future appointees to be given enough time to tie up loose ends before assuming their assigned posts, and warned against those who might want to peddle their influence early on.

Aquino told reporters about one recent appointee who suddenly found himself with “new friends, new relatives, new everything” upon his appointment. He did not identify him.

“Some of these people want to know who they will try to influence at the earliest possible time; and perhaps, some of these people will also be tidying up their affairs before they embark on these new assignments,” he added.

The race to chief, PNP

At least 5 police generals are considered “top contenders” for PNP chief: Deputy Chief for Operations Deputy Director General Marcelo Garbo Jr, Criminal Investigation and Detection Group chief Director Benjamin Magalong, Directorate for Plans chief Director Ricardo Marquez, Logistics Directorate chief Director Juanito Vaño Jr, and former CALABARZON chief Chief Superintendent Raul Petrasanta, who also happens to be close to the Aquino family.

EASIER TIMES. President Benigno S. Aquino III converses with Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II and then PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima at the PNP Araw ng Parangal sa Kapulisan in April 2014. File photo by Benhur Arcayan/Malacañang Photo Bureau

Various Rappler sources, however, have hinted that Petrasanta is the President’s first choice. But should he be appointed, it will not be without hitches. (READ: Aquino will choose next PNP chief ‘at right time’ – Roxas)

The police general is currently serving a preventive suspension order for two graft cases pending before the Ombudsman. His suspension will end in June 2015. 

Appointing Petrasanta, a Philippine Military Academy (PMA) graduate from the Class of 1984, means bypassing more senior officers from the police force. 

Garbo, meanwhile, is seen by many as the top choice of Liberal Party stalwart and Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II. Garbo, currently the Deputy Chief for Operations, is a member of PMA Class of 1981 – the same class as Purisima and Espina.

Vaño, a member of PMA Class of 1983, is seen as Purisima’s bet for PNP chief.

Magalong and Marquez, both from PMA Class of 1982, might as well be counted out of contention, according to police sources. It was Magalong who chaired the PNP’s Board of Inquiry, which produced a report on the controversial “Oplan Exodus.” The same report pointed out possible lapses Aquino might have committed in the lead-up to the operation.

The two police generals were overtaken for a position in the PNP’s Command Group when another member of the PMA Class of 1982, Director Danilo Constantino, was appointed Chief of Directorial Staff.

The start of May 2015 will mark the 5th month of the PNP without a full or acting chief. – 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.