Napolcom eyes changes in probe on erring cops

MANILA, Philippines – To encourage more victims to file cases against erring cops, the National Police Commission (Napolcom) is eyeing key changes in the way cases are handled.

The Napolcom, an office under the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), is proposing a clearer delineation between the Internal Affairs Service (IAS) and Napolcom when it comes to investigating and hearing cases, said Napolcom Vice Chairman and Executive Officer Eduardo Escueta. (Q and A: Getting rid of the PNP’s scalawags)

Under the proposed changes in the system, the IAS will only handle “internal discipline” charges – failure to follow one’s tour of duty, not following the chain of command, improper Philippine National Police (PNP) attire, or missing firearms.

But when a victim is involved – as in the case of "hulidap" or extortion cases in the guise of legitimate arrests, for instance – that’s when the Napolcom steps in.

Escueta explained, “Para hindi magkaroon ng duda ang victim na baka isaayos lang sa loob (So the victim doesn’t have to worry about case-fixing)."

The IAS is under the PNP chain of command, making some would-be complainants wary of filing cases there. “'Yun ang nagiging dahilan kaya marami sa mga victims, ayaw nila sa IAS (That’s why many victims don’t want IAS to handle the case),” said Escueta. 

But it’s still a plan, Escueta said. The PNP also wants to prove it can discipline its own people without fear or favor. 

Bad cop out, good cops in

The way things are now, victims of rogue policemen have 3 options to get a cop sanctioned or dismissed: they can go to the Napolcom, which oversees the PNP; they can file a case before the PNP’s IAS; or they can file a case before the Ombudsman.

Victims can file cases before any of the 3 bodies, but the Napolcom and IAS are authorized to conduct an investigation even if there is no complaint. Any of these routes, however, isn’t always easy as cases typically drag on for years.

Escueta admitted that the pace of cases against erring cops is “a big issue.” He said the cause of delays are similar to any other judicial or quasi-judicial process – postponement of hearings, lengthy trials, and scheduling problems.

“The reason behind the long process is that we don’t want to violate due process,”  Escueta explained in an interview. The swift resolution of cases is key to keeping bad cops out of the police force, and keeping the wrongfully accused in the undermanned PNP. (READ: Can the PNP still be trusted? 'Remember Zamboanga')

A case can only be handled by either the IAS or the Napolcom, but never the two at the same time to prevent “forum shopping,” said Escueta. In a press briefing on Wednesday, September 10, PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima noted that  cases filed before both the IAS and Napolcom could lead to case dismissals.

Cheating the system

Chinks in the Napolcom and PNP’s relief and dismissal systems became apparent after a September 1 EDSA robbery and kidnapping case that was photographed and went viral on Twitter.

Two of the 9 cops that are suspects in the incident were revealed to have pending cases before the Napolcom for the same scheme.

Senior Police Officer 1 Rameil Hachero and Police Officer 2 Jonathan Rodriguez from the La Loma police station in Quezon City were charged in 2011 for alleged abduction, extortion, and illegal detention. They were supposedly relieved from their post in La Loma, never to return to the station while the case was still pending.

But sometime between 2011 and 2014, the two found themselves back in the familiar walls of the station.

Only 3 of the 9 cops tagged in the incident are under police custody. (Roxas to EDSA 'kidnap' suspects: Surrender for your own good)

Purisima admitted Wednesday some police were “taking advantage” of the PNP’s systems. Some relieved cops, for instance, simply wait until a chief of police retires before returning to their police stations.

Interior Secretary Manuel "Mar" Roxas II said they would be conducting an audit of all cases against PNP members.

The audit is hoped to prevent another case of relieved cops returning to old assignments and reverting to their old, corrupt ways. –