The death of policing as a profession in the Philippines
On August 15, 2017, in one big sweep, 32 drug suspects were killed by the Philippine National Police (PNP) officers in the province of Bulacan. That day has the dubious recognition of having the most number of deaths in a single day in the continuing war on drugs.
Dubbed “one-time, big-time” by the Bulacan Provincial Police, it was heartily praised by President Rodrigo Duterte as an efficient implementation of his order. In jest, he said that he wanted more “32 deaths a day” like this. And like clockwork, the police responded with 26 more deaths in Manila, 17 in Cavite, 4 in Caloocan, and 2 in Marikina two days after. One included the death an innocent Grade 11 teenager, Kian Lloyd Delos Santos, who dreamt of becoming a professional police officer.
The police have now become the personal killers of President Duterte. Responding to his call for monetary awards, they have willingly embraced their roles as executioners. The police have now become systematic and systemic in their killings. It is no longer an individual but rather an institutional engagement. It marks the death of policing as a profession in the Philippines.
When the Philippine Public Safety College (PPSC) took control of the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA) and the Philippine National Training Institute (PNTI) in 1991, the main goal was to professionalize the police services. The PNPA serves as the premiere academy which trains the future commissioned officer corps with its rigorous 4-year program. The PNTI, on the other hand, serves as the 6-month training center for the non-commissioned officers and requires its applicants to be graduates of a 4-year bachelor’s degree prior to admission.
In these two academic centers, cadets were instructed to follow the rule of law, to respect due process, and to accord suspects their rights. They were specifically mentored on the rules of engagement, the protocols on the use of deadly force, the approaches to situational control, the mechanisms to preserve forensic evidence and other state of the art and lawful investigation techniques.
A continuing ladderized education program was also instituted to upgrade their managerial skills and to popularize the use of merit in the promotion system. These upgraded training and educational requirements, coupled with the introduction of modern policing concepts like “community policing”, “comp-stat policing”, “problem-oriented policing”, "smart-policing”, “human rights-based approach policing”, “gender-sensitivity”, “child-friendly”, “environmental policing”, and others, have gradually gained traction in the PNP.
Slowly, but surely, police officers were becoming more professionalized, more responsive to citizen complaints, and more effective in their response to crime. In due time, young professionalized police officers would refuse the orders of older higher-ranked police officers to commit human rights abuses or to engage in corrupt practices.
These inspired efforts toward professionalization stemmed from the nefarious state of the police after years of serving as Martial Law implementers. For more than two decades, the police worked with impunity – they brutalized citizens who aired their political dissent against the dictator and they were treated as personal henchmen of the local mayors. The culture of impunity created during the Martial Law period was deeply ingrained, such that, the post-Marcos innovations, though making a headway, were continually frustrated.
Coupled with the predatory nature of the political elites, which, unfortunately, were untouched by the post-EDSA revolution, the local politicians continually used the police as their personal henchmen. Despite years of innovations and training, the police force still suffered from inefficiency, corruption, and inequity.
Many police officers had low morale, as they seemingly could not implement their roles as protectors of citizens from crimes. A few police officers themselves engaged in drug-dealing and other organized crime. Additionally, the police, as an institution, was continually criticized and maligned for bungling cases and the human rights abuses committed by their erring individual members. These gargantuan problems notwithstanding, police reform instituted after the downfall of the Marcos regime was headed in the right direction. The trend was toward the elimination of scalawags.
The ascension of Rodrigo Duterte to the presidency has re-directed and destroyed the gains of police reforms in the past 30 years. Powered by the moralistic belief that drug use had corrupted Philippine society, President Duterte had coopted the people’s frustration against the criminal justice system and used it to implement a personalistic and haphazard vision of reform.
While he correctly understood that the police force is weak due to the stranglehold of local politicians, he nevertheless gave them a license to kill without following appropriate police procedures. While he correctly understood that the police force is corrupt due to the frustrated efforts toward reforms, he nonetheless used these same corrupt police officers to physically eliminate his perceived problem – the drug users – using the same corrupt means.
The long-suffering and long-criticized police officers suddenly found meaning in their police work, though clearly ill-advised – they can now brutally kill a town mayor who, for years, had maligned their occupation. Police morale is high, though clearly misguided – they can count on a president who promised immunity while they aggressively and violently performed their perceived righteous duties as police officers.
While we cannot begrudge the intentions of the President, a drug-free and crime-free Philippines, he has transformed the police into the biggest criminal institution in the Philippines. Professional police officers, those who were successfully trained and educated in the proper legal and moral police work, are stymied by the sudden but mistaken boost of morale of their fellow police officers.
Instructors and mentors in the PPSC, PNPA and PNTI can only lament this in frustration – these are not what they taught in the academy and training center. The top brass of the PNP, those who have remaining qualms about where the PNP is headed, are intimidated; else they will be transferred to low-prestige assignments, bypassed in promotions, or suspected of being drug protectors themselves.
Individual police officers are either forced to quit the police profession or to join the slaughter of their fellow Filipinos. While there are many good men and women in the PNP, product of years of painstaking reforms, they cannot do anything about the moral erosion of their profession. Philippine policing is systemically and systematically perverted. Filipino taxes are used as salaries of the organized scalawags.
The Filipino people have the misguided belief that this is the rebirth of Filipino policing. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. This is the death of policing as a profession in the Philippines. – Rappler.com
The author teaches Comparative Criminology and Criminal Justice at Southern Illinois University. In 2014, he conducted a survey on the state of police professionalism in the Philippines. He also regularly conducts training for the police and other law enforcement agencies on a voluntary service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.