Alan Purisima: When a 4-star general is powerless

Bea Cupin
Alan Purisima: When a 4-star general is powerless
'There is no law that says that when you resign from your position as PNP chief, you are also automatically retired,' says the PNP's spokesman Senior Superintendent Bartolome Tobias

MANILA, Philippines – It’s an odd situation for the Philippine National Police (PNP): their highest-ranking official, the sole 4-star general of the 150,000-strong force, has no command or power to speak of.

It’s a result of a series of complicated and unrelated events over the past 6 months.

First, the PNP’s chief, Director General Alan Purisima, was suspended by the Ombudsman as it investigated an allegedly anomalous deal between a private courier company and the PNP’s Firearms and Explosives Office. A police director general is equivalent to a 4-star general in the military.

Second, Purisima was forced to step down in the aftermath of a botched top-secret police operation that claimed the lives of more than 70, including 44 of the PNP’s own men.

Despite his suspension at the time, Purisima played a key role in the January 25 “Oplan Exodus,” sitting in briefings, even receiving and relaying information on the day of the operation itself. 

Four months after his resignation and 6 months after his suspension, Purisima is again making headlines with politicians calling on him to resign, the latest being Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.

In a privilege speech on Tuesday, June 9, Marcos questioned why Purisima was returning to the PNP even if the President had already accepted his resignation. The senator said:

Napakalinaw po ng sinabi ng ating Pangulo noon: “AALIS (SI PURISIMA) SA SERBISYO” at “TINATANGGAP (NIYA) EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY, ANG RESIGNATION NI GENERAL PURISIMA”.

(What the President said is clear: “Purisima is leaving the service” and “He is accepting immediately the resignation of General Purisima.”)

Eh, bakit ngayon ay naririyan pa siya? Naririyan NA NAMAN si Purisima.

(So why is he still there? Purisima is there once again.)

Lumalabas na nag-resign pala si General Purisima bilang PNP Chief lamang! Pero, mananatili siya sa kapulisan. Hindi pala lubos ang kanyang pagbibitiw. May mga nakatagong kondisyones.

(It turns out, General Purisima only resigned as PNP chief. But he remains in the police service. His resignation was not absolute. There were hidden conditions.)

Rank, position

Yet it’s clear to the PNP hierarchy and to the media that Purisima’s resignation was only in relation to his position as chief of the national police.

He did not resign from the service, nor did he opt for early retirement.

With the recent lifting of his suspension order, Purisima will continue to receive his salary and benefits as a commissioned officer.

The investigation into the Mamasapano incident, and possible administrative – or even criminal – cases against Purisima and other senior police officers also continues. (READ: 4 months on, probe into Purisima admin case ‘continues’ – Roxas)

Hindi siya resigned from the service, sa position lang. Wala tayong batas na pag nag resign sa position, automatically retired na rin siya. So he remains an active member of the PNP,” PNP spokesman Senior Superintendent Bartolome Tobias told Rappler on Tuesday.

(Purisima did not resign from the service. He only resigned from his position. There is no law that says that when you resign from your position as PNP chief, you are also automatically retired.)

RESIGNED, NOT RETIRED. Former PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima during a Senate hearing on the Mamasapano clash. Rappler file photo

The rank of commissioned officers in the PNP is distinct from their positions, although certain positions require an officer to be of a certain rank. Ranks may also limit the kind of position you can be assigned to.

Purisima’s status in the PNP is akin to top senior officers who are put on “floating” status, meaning you’re pulled out from your current assignment and temporarily assigned to either the office of the chief PNP or the next highest authority.

“Floating” officers have no command or daily tasks. They simply report to a higher officer.

Walang pagbabago, walang pagkakaiba sa (There is no change in the) command structure [of the] PNP. Former PNP chief Purisima does not have a command, does not have any units reporting to him so ganoon lang iyon,” Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II said on Monday, June 8, in a chance interview with reporters. 

Purisima was supposed to return to the service on Wednesday, June 10, but filed for a leave until July.

Time to resign?

He can, of course, opt to resign from the service now or retire this early.

However, the process of early resignation for Senior Superintendents (equivalent to a full colonel in the military) to Director General in the PNP isn’t instantaneous. They first have to apply for optional retirement, which will then be approved by their appointing authority, the President, Tobias said.

Purisima has not applied for early retirement, although he’s free to do this even with charges pending before the Ombudsman. He is scheduled to retire in November, when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 56.

The ties between Purisima and Aquino were put on the spotlight after Mamasapano, as critics accused the President of covering up for those close to him.

Marcos cried foul over the supposed special treatment for Purisima, who has been friends with the President since the late 80s.

“Why is our President holding the PNP hostage to the whims and caprices of a few? Why doesn’t our President heed the call of the people for the outright removal of Gen. Purisima from the service, and not just from his perch as PNP Chief,” said Marcos.

Kaya pala hindi makapag-appoint ang ating Pangulo ng permanenteng PNP Chief. Tila may nakahanda palang ispesyal na plano para kay Purisima, kung kaya naman nakabinbin ang appointment ng bagong PNP Chief. This is absurd. This is unfair not only to the people and to the widows and families of our SAF 44, but more particularly to the members of our police force,” he continued.

(It’s no wonder our President cannot appoint a new PNP chief. It seems as though he has a special plan for Purisima, that’s why he’s delaying the appointment of a new PNP chief.)

But sources said Aquino is eyeing another police general to become PNP boss – Chief Superintendent Raul Petrasanta who, like Purisima, was also suspended over an allegedly anomalous deal. Petrasanta is also back in service.

The PNP has been headed by a mere OIC since December 2014. – 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.