Don’t mess with the police, Mr President

The grumblings in the Philippine National Police should not be taken lightly

The President misses the point. The Philippine National Police (PNP) no longer needs answers or explanations from their commander-in-chief about Mamasapano. That time is past.  

What they need are 3 things: 

  • A commitment from him to stop messing with Camp Crame, poking into their field operations, and bypassing their chain of command; 
  • An announcement of a new PNP chief to replace the resigned and disgraced Alan Purisima; and
  • A decision on whether to endorse Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II for president in 2016, which should then pave the way for the appointment of a new DILG chief that will supervise the PNP.

The PNP has been run by an ad hoc leadership since December 2014, when the Ombudsman suspended Purisima over graft charges (he eventually resigned in February). The officer-in-charge of the PNP, Leonardo Espina, has been signing papers and appointing officials in an ad hoc capacity. Down the line, newly appointed police chiefs carry OIC titles that send mixed messages to people they deal with, and prompt awkward queries as to when they would be made “permanent.”

What’s keeping the President from naming Purisma’s replacement? Only God – and the walls of Malacañang – know.

The suspension and resignation of Purisima is unprecedented in the PNP’s young history. While serving suspension, Purisima continued to lord it over at Camp Crame. His involvement in the January 25 Mamasapano operation was, in many ways, an appropriate ending to his refusal to let go of the powers and perks of a PNP chief. We’re told of how, despite his suspension, he continued to hold his own meetings with his loyalists; of how he signed documents and ordered the release of funds; of how he called up police commanders to check on their projects; and of how he egged the Special Action Force to a high-risk mission – like lambs to the slaughter.

President Aquino tolerated this. For this he owes the PNP an apology. But because he won’t do that, he should just declare that he has learned his lesson the hard way and that he will never again tinker with their field operations, deal directly with their commanders, or name a PNP chief whose self-infatuation is bigger than his love of the organization.

After all, the grumblings in the ill-equipped PNP should not be taken lightly. 

While low morale might not spark a coup that relies on tanks and weaponry, it could have dire consequences on our streets and communities. Policemen are in our everyday lives. To mess with the police is to mess with its already poor ability to combat crime. When cops lose their faith in the President or begin to suspect he no longer has faith in them, this spells trouble far worse than what a one-shot military mutiny would cause. 

And it’s not as if they’re not capable of mutinous acts.

Mutinous SAF

Back in 2006, the Special Action Force (SAF) joined a botched attempt to oust then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The SAF got agitated over how Arroyo and then PNP chief and ex-SAF commander Hermogenes Ebdane Jr (incidentally a close friend of Purisima) used the elite force to cheat in the 2004 presidential elections. 

What caused the agitation?

SAF members were deployed to the Batasan Pambansa, where the election returns of the 2004 presidential polls were stored. The late Fernando Poe Jr, who was defeated in that race, had filed a protest, and the administration was afraid his widow would pursue the case. 

The Arroyo government wanted to make sure that the election returns would reflect the tampered summaries in the certificates of canvass, which Poe was disputing. Thus, they deployed SAF personnel to switch some of the ballot boxes already in the House of Representatives at the Batasan compound with election returns that were fixed to conform to the official tally. 

Newsbreak exposed this in 2005, months after the “Hello, Garci” scandal that exposed Arroyo’s phone calls to then elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano Jr. The scandal came close to toppling Mrs Arroyo. 

In 2006, mutinous soldiers and policemen plotted to oust her in a coup. SAF was part of that plan, and guess who would have led the police commandos had the putsch pushed through? Police Director Benjamin Magalong, head of the Board of Inquiry that investigated the Mamasapano operation.

The plot – by the Marines, the Rangers, and the police SAF – was nipped in the bud hours before it was to be implemented. The overall ground commander for it, retired general Danilo Lim, was eventually arrested. After the plot was exposed, Magalong and 3 other SAF officers surrendered to authorities; they served 3 months in jail.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise to Malacañang that Magalong not only stood his ground as he shepherded the BOI team, he also dared to bury his chances of promotion when the report singled out the President for “bypassing” the PNP chain command. He’s been through fire.  

The SAF had been used once before in the elections. It is doubtful if the troopers, especially in the wake of the killing of 44 of their comrades, would tolerate another similar attempt for 2016. 

Thus, the earlier the President makes up his mind on Roxas as standard-bearer of the ruling party, the better for the healing process in the PNP.

It will stop the second-guessing and the tiptoeing around Roxas. It will – should the President announce him as his candidate – pave the way for a new leadership at the Department of the Interior and Local Government. Or it will – should the President decide against endorsing him – depoliticize the environment at Crame.

But more important than that, the PNP needs a new chief.

The longer the President delays the decision, the more intense the speculation becomes: that he again wants his own man to head the PNP based on the sole criteria that he used when he named Purisima: loyalty. Look where that put him and the rest of the institution. –

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