Philippine National Police

[OPINION] Defunding the PNP

Geronimo Sy

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[OPINION] Defunding the PNP

Illustration by DR Castuciano

'[A] simple test is to ask how we react when we meet a police officer or see a police car. Do we feel safe and secure?'

The Philippine National Police is our protector. Its reason for existence is to honor and serve the people. If it no longer fulfills its function, what is the purpose of funding it?

This is the basic logic of the defunding police movement in the United States, which was a result of the killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests against police violence.

In the Philippines where we are wont to copy and ape many things American, the idea of disbanding the police force has not gained traction. Neither has there been a wave of protests against all forms of criminality within the ranks of the police – from ninja cops to policemen as hired guns, from abusive cops to police brutality, the sheer number and range of crimes committed by elements of the PNP against the citizens of the Republic are many times over those in the US and perhaps anywhere in the world.

To enumerate some recent cases: the Tarlac in-your-face shooting of an unarmed civilian; the nanlaban cases against mere teenage suspects handcuffed in Laguna; the drunk cops shootings in restaurants and bars in QC and elsewhere; the “secret cells” and torture and rape in Manila and Cebu police stations; the shootouts with the PDEA in QC and with the AFP in Samar and again in Jolo. All these cases demonstrate the active violence and impunity crimes that could classify the PNP as a criminal organization or a mafia with a monopoly of legal force.

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There are of course the remaining good men and women. But a simple test is to ask how we react when we meet a police officer or see a police car. Do we feel safe and secure? Do we want to reach out and engage? Are we inspired by a sense of duty? Or, do we avoid and shy away from any interaction just to be on the sure side? Do we feel a sense of fear or dread? Are we generally happy to see blue men in uniform or would we rather not see them?

Not funding an agency is something that is routinely done when those in authority are not pleased with such an office. These include, as recent as 2020, the proposal to cut the budget of the University of the Philippines to zero; in 2017 to appropriate nothing to the Commission on Human Rights; and in 2006, to abolish the Presidential Commission on Good Government by giving it zero funds, among others instances.

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That there is no discussion or initiative to defund the police or even a threat or warning that if the PNP does not shape up, there will be consequences on their appropriations, testifies to the essential nature of, and our implicit trust in, our national police agency. We instinctively perceive that it is far worse to have no PNP rather than having more than a few rogue police officers.

It is a very sad and low bar of accountability and performance of the modern PNP, national in scope and civilian in character, and reformed from its Metrocom and PC-INP past and when mayors used to control the local police and use it as their private army.

The solutions to address police abuses and criminality are known and straightforward. There are two top of mind: 1) swiftly and impartially utilize the administrative justice system to remove criminals from the service to prevent interference with processes and further abuses of their office; 2) focus on proactive measures like integrity monitoring and lifestyle checks that will identify early signs of police deterioration – idealistic police recruits do not harden to kill and to corrupt overnight, but take short cuts over time, similar to the “broken windows” theory.

It is always a good time to change for the better. It is more true for our one Philippine National Police that is sworn to be the bastion of peace and order. It cannot be the monster that grew to bite the people that give it its meaning and purpose – and tax payments, too. In this era of pandemic, we see police officers dressed in fatigue and combat uniforms prowling our streets, manning checkpoints, flagging motorists, and strutting around with batuta. –

Geronimo L. Sy is a former Assistant Secretary of the Department of Justice. He set up the Office of Cybercrime and the Office for Competition.

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