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How many police crimes haven’t been exposed?

OF course we don’t know, and we may never know. We were only jarred over the likelihood that heinous crimes committed by the police have risen since President Duterte’s war against illegal drugs, because of the kidnap and killing of Korean national Jee Ick-joo allegedly by, of all people, the officers involved in that campaign that has been the No. 1 priority of the President himself.

Philippine National Police Chief Ronald de la Rosa himself has said that he is convinced Senior Police Officer Ricardo Isabel and Police Superintendent Rafael Dumlao were the main perpetrators of the crime. Dumlao is the team leader of the PNP Anti-Illegal Drugs Group’s Special Investigation Unit 2, while Isabel is one of his operatives.

Dumlao’s police rank obscures the seriousness of the situation. “Superintendent” is the equivalent of lieutenant colonel in the Armed Forces. I can’t remember a single Army or Marine colonel ever being accused of a grisly crime like kidnapping for ransom.

That the police killers thought themselves beyond the law was demonstrated by their killing of the Korean not just within the PNP headquarters, but a few blocks from the PNP chief’s residence. Have you ever heard of such a crime committed in the Army’s headquarters at Fort Bonifacio, or the Armed Forces at Camp Aguinaldo?

If the Korean’s wife had not realized that her husband had already been killed when she paid the P5 million ransom, and didn’t go to the PNP leadership to report the crime, would the crime ever be exposed to the public?

Indeed, only because of the consequent Senate investigation of the horrific crime did victims get enough courage to give Senator Panfilo Lacson, Jr. video tapes of police planting illegal drugs in an office, and beating up its employees. Only because of the investigation did Chinese-Filipino anti-crime crusader Teresita Ang-See disclose that several Chinese businessmen have reported that police have extorted millions of pesos from then with the threat that they’d be tagged as drug lords, and even killed in an operation.

Something very rotten
There is something rotten going on, and we must kick ourselves for not realizing that Duterte’s war on illegal drugs is so fraught with danger, given the quality and track record of the Philippine National Police.

MEN OF DUTERTE’S WAR VS DRUGS: Left, police colonel Dumlao; right, police sergeant Sta. Isabel, both of the PNP’s Anti-Illegal Drugs Group, accused of kidnapping and killing a Korean businessman.

The analogy of a war used in Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs conceals the very serious problem. Duterte’s army isn’t a national army fighting a foreign invader. The huge problem is the PNP, which has been ridden with corruption since its establishment, with its officials pressured to engage in graft, as they have to accumulate substantial bank accounts or properties before reaching their retirement age of 56.

Shocking as it may be, the “pabaon” system—the under-the-table moneys given to retiring generals of the Armed Forces of the Philippines exposed in a Senate investigation a few years ago–may have mitigated such pressure to be corrupt in the AFP. No such pabaon system has been unearthed in the PNP.

There are of course PNP generals who are practically saints, who retire poor, rely on their wives’ businesses (or even salaries) for post-retirement expenses, or who become security-agency executives. But have you ever met such a PNP general?

For most PNP officers though, income beyond their salaries come from “no-victim” graft, “smiling money,” the term they use, so that they can still look themselves in the mirror: a share in the jueteng proceeds of a town (preferably a city); protection money from such establishments as massage parlors and nightclubs that front as full-time or part-time prostitution joints (allegedly a big source of graft in Quezon City and Pasay); and donations by businessmen, especially Chinese-Filipinos, for them to have some “muscle” so that criminal syndicates wouldn’t dare touch them.

Some “respectable” PNP officials–-or their wives–also manage to get businesses from tycoons, who calculate that a direct line to police generals and colonels is cheaper than hiring bodyguards. A near legendary tale involves a PNP officer who rescued the kidnapped daughter of a tycoon. The officer led the team that rescued the girl and executed all of the kidnappers. He refused to accept the reward offered by the tycoon, but built so much goodwill with the billionaire that he got very good business contacts and breaks from him.

Police scalawags
The so-called police scalawags are those who get “crying money” — from extortion and blackmail — and those who don’t bother to go into businesses which require intelligence, work and patience. They protect drug lords in their areas of jurisdiction, as Police Supt. (colonel) Marvin Marcos was accused of doing by confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa. (Whatever happened to the case against him that he planned the liquidation of Espinosa’s father, right inside a Baybay City jail?). They themselves engage in big-time drug distribution. Or for the impatient and bold, kidnap rich people, preferably Chinese-Filipinos and foreigners, as these people are easily persuaded to pay ransom.

What Duterte and his PNP chief have been naïve over is the fact that in such a major, even historical campaign as a war on drugs, not everyone in the fighting force they mobilize for it, is imbued with such patriotism or basic goodness.

In fact, most of the PNP, except perhaps for a microscopic group of young recruits, aren’t such idealists, and are involved in “war”, at best and naturally, to be promoted, and at worst, exploit the campaign for their own purposes. It is very likely that a significant number of the over 2,000 so far killed in Duterte’s drug war were low-level distributors of rogue cops themselves, or even those they wanted killed for some personal or financial reason. The prime example, is, disguised in their purported surveillance to bust a drug lord–if the PNP chief is right in his accusations–was Sta. Isabel and Dumlao’s meticulous execution of the Korean’s kidnapping.

I myself experienced how a “noble” objective could be turned into something very ugly when I was the Presidential Chief of Staff during the early years of President Gloria Arroyo’s administration, when we launched a “lifestyle check” campaign to get rid of corrupt officials, which proved to be very successful.

I was informed later though by AFP intelligence whom I had asked to monitor the campaign, that one of my staff had been going around the Bureau of Customs, and threatening to have certain officials “lifestyle-checked” if they don’t pay him. He managed to extort P250,000 to P500,000 from a few officials, who obviously had made enough money from graft to pay up. The lifestyle check campaign got such a bad press from this incident that it was scuttled. That demonic staff of mine managed to get a high position in President Aquino’s administration and, quite surprisingly, also in the Duterte government.

Duterte and his PNP chief De la Rosa’s big fault is that for such a huge campaign relying on an organization not known for its incorruptibility, they didn’t put in place a group that would act as a check on the police operations against illegal drugs. Perhaps, an experienced intelligence group from the AFP would have sufficed as a check.

Learn from Marcos era
Duterte should learn from the Marcos era, especially since martial law portrayed the military and the police as having so much power, in the same way that Duterte has given the police as much power in his war on illegal drugs.

Despite the quality of Marcos’ generals—especially AFP Vice Chief of Staff and Philippine Constabulary Chief Fidel Ramos—there were criminals and sadists in the AFP and PC. By 1975, then Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile reported that military tribunals had convicted more than 4,000 soldiers and policemen for various offenses, including human rights abuses.

Was there a state policy for the military and the police to undertake human rights abuses? I don’t think so. Yet the perception that Marcos was as ruthless as Indonesia’s Suharto and Chile’s Pinochet (who did have such policies) has persisted. Duterte doesn’t even have the military tribunals that Marcos had to weed out fast the scalawags in the uniformed services, and the Yellow Cult hates him as it does the former strongman, and has the media resources to demonize him.