Nolasco Bathan: The general who snatched a journalist’s phone

Rambo Talabong

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Nolasco Bathan: The general who snatched a journalist’s phone
Brigadier General Nolasco Bathan has a history of getting entangled with controversy. Will he survive this latest one?

MANILA, Philippines – When Police Brigadier General Nolasco Bathan snatched a reporter’s phone, nothing prepared him for all the condemnation that came with it.

It was the morning of the Traslacion on Thursday, January 9, on Ayala Bridge in Manila. On one side was the mass of devotees inching forward and threatening to swallow anything and anyone in their path. On the other stood a wall of cops and their deputized cohorts poised to arrest troublemakers, complete with a squadron of motor-riding policemen with sirens blaring.

Behind the cops, GMA reporter Jun Veneracion was pursuing a story when something caught his eye – a group of cops and Manila Traffic and Parking Bureau personnel were pushing a devotee to the ground. Veneracion pulled out his cellphone, began recording, and marched toward the chaos.

Just as cops shoved the faithful to the ground, the video appeared like the phone was yanked, it shook for a few seconds, then recorded the walking legs of what looked like a policeman’s because of the pleated blue pants and shiny black shoes. Then the footage turned black.

Just before the video ended, the phone started recording again, showing only the same attire, and then recorded a voice: “Burahin mo, burahin mo. Kuha ni Jun Veneracion. P*tangina nagku-kwan eh (Delete it, delete it! It’s Jun Veneracion’s video. Son of a bitch, he’s meddling.)

The official was Brigadier General Nolasco Bathan, the chief of the Southern Police District of Metro Manila. He oversees thousands of cops watching over the cities of Makati, Parañaque, Las Piñas, Muntinlupa, Taguig, and Pateros.

But on that day, because of an initiative of the acting Metro Manila police chief Brigadier General Debold Sinas to deploy district directors like Bathan on the ground, he was one with his cops, and he said he lost his cool.

Apologizing for the incident after being scorched on social media, Bathan said that he was caught in the “chaos” and might have been “tired” when he snatched the reporter’s phone.

Bathan and controversy

Over the years, Bathan has become a recurring personality in controversies surrounding the police.

On July 6, 2016, cops barged into the home of father and son Renato and JP Bertes. It was the height of the Duterte administration’s crackdown on drug suspects and they were arrested for allegedly selling illegal drugs. The next day, they were killed inside the Pasay City Jail, accused by cops of trying to grab their pistols.

Bathan was the officer-in-charge of the Pasay City Police Office during this operation, and he was grilled over the allegation of the younger Bertes’ spouse that cops tortured the Bertes men during detention then killed them and covered it up with the gun-grabbing alibi.

During the Senate probe on the case on August 22 that same year, senators interrogated Bathan for giving conflicting statements under oath.

He first said that father and son were not made to undergo a drug test and medical examination. But then-senator Chiz Escudero read the affidavits of one of the Pasay cops saying that they gave the detainees a drug test but there were still no results.

Then Bathan pulled out his cellphone and said, “Katetext lang po ng tao ko…Sabi niya rito, ‘Sir, meron po tayong result ng drug test. Positive po.’” (One of my men just texted…He said, “Sir, we have results of the drug test. They’re positive.”) This dismayed senators as they demanded to see the actual test results.

CONNECTED. General Bathan was chief of the Eastern Police District before heading the Southern Police District. PNP photo

Three years later, he figured in another issue when he led the Metro Manila’s Eastern Police District.

According to a Rappler Inside Track report, Bathan required thousands of cops to donate P100 for the renovation of toilets in their headquarters or else face complaints. Bathan denied the allegations, saying that the donation was for the housing project of the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) for its retired police priests.

The donations, he said earlier, were on top of the budget allotted by the PNP for the construction of facilities. NCRPO chief at the time Guillermo Eleazar vowed a probe into the donations, but it appears that Bathan was acquitted as he was later merely transferred to the Southern Police District.

Before the Duterte administration, Bathan served as the chief of the Samar Police Provincial Office from 2014 to 2015.

After completing a year in the position, he was relieved from the post “apparently for his failure to address the problem on unsolved killings of village officials and political leaders in Samar,” reported SunStar.

Under his watch, two barangay captains and one barangay councilor were killed in Calbayog City within a week, prompting its mayor, Ronald Aquino, to write to the national police headquarters, urging them to solve the killings.

Bathan’s service history

Bathan is a member of the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA) Tagapagbuklod Class of 1989. He was a classmate of Quezon City Police District chief Brigadier General Ronnie Montejo and Aviation Security Group chief Brigadier General Crizaldo Nieves.

Among their honorary classmates are now Lieutenant General Guillermo Eleazar and former senator Bongbong Marcos. Former president and Manila mayor Joseph Estrada is an adviser of their class.

After his stint in Pasay, Bathan was assigned to be regional chief of the directorial staff of the Western Visayas Regional Police Office in November 2016. He was then assigned to Calabarzon in August 2017, holding its third-highest position as the deputy chief for operations. This Southern Tagalog post got him the stars on his shoulders.

In August 2018, he was promoted to become the second-highest official of the Davao Region Police Office as its deputy chief for administration.

He returned to Metro Manila in June 2019, replacing former Eastern Police District chief Christopher Tambungan, who was caught on video physically assaulting a policewoman who supposedly disobeyed his orders.

In August 2019, Bathan was included in a mini reshuffling of generals under resigned police chief Albayalde, who placed him in his current position as chief of the SPD.

Despite his apology to Veneracion, Bathan has had little respite as journalists covering the national police command pointed out that what he did was “plain and simple conduct unbecoming of a PNP member” – a violation of the police code.

Even Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, the man whom Duterte entrusted to clean up the police force even as he has made no choice for his next police chief, said generals simply cannot snatch anyone’s phone – regardless of whether or not it belonged to a prominent journalist.

Will this be another controversy Bathan will weather? –

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Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.