Police watchdog: Know enough about Internal Affairs Service?

Jodesz Gavilan
The Internal Affairs Service is an independent body tasked to investigate police accused of violating procedures and regulations

MANILA, Philippines – Members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) are again at the frontline as the anti-illegal drugs campaign resumes. 

PNP chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa on Monday, March 6, promised that the campaign dubbed “Project Double Barrel Reloaded” will be “less bloody, if not bloodless” and will involve policemen who are aware that what is at stake is the “future of the PNP.” (READ: What’s the new PNP Drug Enforcement Group like?)

The relaunch comes after President Rodrigo Duterte dissolved the PNP Anti-Illegal Drugs Group (AIDG), following the murder of South Korean businessman Jee Ick Joo inside Camp Crame.

Aside from the death of Jee, the police force has been hit and scrunitized in relation to the huge number of killed individuals in anti-illegal drug operations across the country.

Investigations by international human rights organizations – such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch – have concluded that the police planted evidence, faked reports, and have received money to kill.  

Since the start of the campaign in July, more than 7,000 suspected drug dealers and users have been killed in both legitimate operations and vigilante killings.

As the war on drugs resumes amid allegations of police corruption, all eyes will be on the Internal Affairs Service (IAS) of the PNP to ensure that incidents will be probed and erring policemen will be sanctioned. 

Independent, watchdog

Created pursuant to Republic Act 8551 or the PNP Reform and Reorganization Act of 1998 signed by then president Fidel Ramos, the IAS is supposed to act as the watchdog of the country’s police force. 

It is also expected to be a truly independent body since it handles investigations on police accused of violating police procedures and regulations. 

Section 39 of RA 8551 also states that functions of the IAS include:

  1. Pro-actively conduct inspections and audits on PNP personnel and units
  2. Investigate complaints and gather evidence in support of an open investigation
  3. Conduct summary hearings on PNP members facing administrative charges
  4. Submit a periodic report on the assessment, analysis, and evaluation of the character and behavior of PNP personnel and units to the Chief PNP and the Commission 

IAS, after thorough investigations, can recommend “appropriate criminal cases against PNP members before the court as evidence warrants.”

The IAS does not only act only when a complaint is filed. It can also initiate investigations on specific types of cases without waiting for a complainant.

These cases when the IAS can conduct motu propio investigations are incidents involving:

  1. Member of the police force discharging a firearm
  2. Death, serious physical injury, or any human rights violation during a police operation
  3. Compromised, tampered, obliterated, or lost evidence while in police custody
  4. Suspect seriously injured while in police custody
  5. Violation of rules of engagement 

As an independent body expected to “police the police,” RA 8551 mandates that “the head of the IAS shall be a civilian who shall meet the qualification requirements.” 

This provision – that the IAS Inspector General should not be part of the police force – has not been strictly followed as senior police officers have traditionally been appointed.

In December 2016, Duterte put lawyer Alfegar Triambulo in the position. He is only the second IAS Inspector General who did not come from PNP following Alexis Canonizado, who was appointed by former president Joseph Estrada in 1998. (READ: Davao lawyer is PNP’s new IAS chief)

One of the well-known incidents that the IAS investigated was the death of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr, one of the alleged drug personalities named by Duterte.  

Espinosa was killed in November 2016 after he allegedly fought back against Eastern Visayas police who were trying to serve a search warrant while detained at the sub-provincial jail in Baybay City, Leyte. 

The IAS started in December 2016 its preliminary conference on the administrative case against at least 20 police officers allegedly involved in the killing of Espinosa. 

Beyond IAS: Where to file complaints 

Aside from the IAS, individuals may also file criminal and administrative complaints before regular trial courts or Office of the Ombudsman.

This was the path Efren Morillo took when he filed murder charges against policemen from the Quezon City Police District (QCPD) before the Office of the Ombudsman. (READ: Tokhang victim files murder charges vs cops) 

Morillo, the lone survivor in an alleged execution-style killing of drug suspects, filed cases: frustrated murder, murder, robbery, and planting of drugs and firearms stemming from an Oplan TokHang operation conducted in Payatas in August 2016. (READ: A gruesome tale of TokHang: ‘Sir, may humihinga pa’)

The cops have since been transferred to police stations outside Quezon City. 

Meanwhile, the People’s Law Enforcement Board (PLEB) in one’s city or municipality can also receive administrative complaints against erring cops. The law mandates that there should be at least one PLEB for every 500 police personnel.  

According to Republic Act 6975, the PLEB has jurisdiction to “hear and decide citizen’s complaints or cases filed before it against erring officers and members of the PNP.”

A decision regarding the complaint filed against an erring police officer should be released 60 days since filing before the board.

Penalties that PLEB is authorized to impose include suspension, dismissal from service, demotion, and forfeiture of salary, among others. – Rappler.com 

Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.