Philippine National Police

[OPINION] Lolo pulis: To serve and protect

John Molo

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[OPINION] Lolo pulis: To serve and protect
We need to make it worthwhile to be a good cop. Because just like 'Lolo pulis,' there are thousands of them out there.

We called him “Lolo pulis”. Though we didn’t know exactly what he did because he was always away. It was when he retired that I discovered who he was. I’d notice neighbors nodding to him. Then there were the jeepney drivers who wouldn’t let him pay. He paid anyway. The neighborhood sinapot (maruya) vendor knew I loved the stuff. So he’d offer an extra piece for free. But Lolo pulis would never let me take any. 

These memories shaped my views on public service and the purpose of wielding power. It’s a far cry from what we are seeing today. In one week alone, two incidents of road rage were discovered. And quite disturbingly, a high-ranking police official tested positive in a drug test. Twice. 

It’s cause for worry when some officers (whether active or retired) draw their guns in a traffic dispute against civilians. It’s also distressing to see them remain free and be given a presscon so they can “air their side”. “Alam natin na may kasalanan siya, but we are bound by rule of law” was the explanation. The adherence to due process is commendable but, where was it when Kian, Jemboy and thousands of poor Filipinos were summarily gunned down? 

Under our system, the public agreed to give the police the power to arrest not to maintain order for order’s sake but, to protect the people. Indeed, the maintenance of peace and order is, “first and foremost, about protecting the rights of citizens.” That’s from the old Philippine National Police (PNP) Guidebook. 

Illusion of order

In relation to this, the rule of law exists as an aspect of the promise to deliver justice. At the core of this promise is equal enforcement. Without equal application, law enforcement gives the illusion of order but its true master becomes chaos. The rule of law is not served by merely invoking the phrase. And when officers cite it only for the powerful, the rich, and their own, it is the rule of men they serve, not law. 

What led to this situation shouldn’t be surprising. The “protection of human rights is at the very core of policing.” So says the PNP Guidebook. When the Duterte administration threw this out the window, however, not a few of us cheered. But now that he is gone and the so-called drug war is over, a police force accustomed to shortcuts may not be easily checked. 

This is the price of Duterte’s false promise of “security.” When the president himself encourages aggression as the primary mode of engagement, it erodes even the lessons taught in the academy. Duterte may no longer be president but, the aggression he cultivated remains. And now that it’s denied “addicts” to target, it will seek new prey. Guess who they are. 

Still, Duterte is not solely to blame. Even before he came in, we’ve had a sorry record in exacting accountability. We see headlines say that a corrupt officer is relieved. But really, “relieved” meant taken out temporarily only to be given another post a few months after. Don’t let a few bad apples spoil the entire batch. True, but if we don’t fire the bad apples and simply recycle them, what signal does this send to the good members of the force?

Good cops

Speaking of good cops, yes, they’re still there. And I’ve met quite a few. It was an honest cop who once helped us catch a thief who snatched my mother’s necklace in Quiapo. It was our neighborhood police who aided my sister after a motorcycle rider robber left her shaken. Honorable officers exist. Unfortunately, they are slaves to a system that rewards the corrupt, and silences, if not “punishes” the good. 

Which leads me back to Lolo pulis. I was already in high school when I discovered the truth about him. Turns out, he wasn’t a beat cop. He was a police chief. My lolo, who retired as a farmer, and died in the same hut he built, was once in charge of a city at the height of Martial Law. “Bakit hindi tayo mayaman?!?” I half-jokingly asked my father. I raise this point because it is fair to ask whether as a practical matter, our system supports those who refuse to be scoundrels. A clear conscience may be priceless but, when our officers go home to their families, they must be able to provide a better future without giving in to temptation. 

Lolo pulis spent his last years tending to his crops and fixing a hut that had a look of being perpetually unfinished. When he passed on, he had no money to bequeath. Yet as I looked at the crowd that showed up to pay their respects, I realized he left us something greater.

He taught us that it’s possible to have a police force that is more loved than feared. Because as much as we idolized him, we knew that in truth, Lolo pulis was not unique. His is a story that’s lived by several others in this country. Lolo pulis himself said so. However, so long as the system enables corruption and impunity, the good voices in our force will remain faint echoes. 

Post-Duterte, we can’t simply rely on the innate goodness of individuals to overcome an entire system. Massive reform is needed. We need to unlearn the habits he ingrained and go back to what our academies teach. We need to do a better job of exacting accountability. And most important of all, we need to make it worthwhile to be a good cop. Because just like Lolo pulis there are thousands of them out there. But they can’t win this on their own. –

John Molo is a partner in Mosveldtt Law and a Board member of the Philippine Bar Association. He chairs the political law cluster of the UP College of Law and has argued before the Philippine Supreme Court and international tribunals. He is the coordinator (accountability layer) for #FactsFirstPh and speaks on disinformation across the region

1 comment

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  1. ET

    Thanks to writer John Molo for his inspiring article on “Lolo Pulis.” Indeed, our PNP as a Police Institution needs to be reformed in both form and substance, but good policemen cannot do it on their own.

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