Free the hostages
SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - November 24, 2018 - 12:00am

Ang Probinsyano, the Phl style superhero “pulis patola” immortalized on the silver screen by Fernando Poe Jr. and given a new lease on TV by ABS-CBN, has dominated the network ratings game for the past three years. The enormously popular adaptation properly belongs to the action-drama genre. It is presented neither as spoof nor fantasy. 

Given its massive popularity, the Philippine National Police is raring to take advantage of the show’s goodwill to promote a positive public image for itself. The leadership wants the producers to stop the “negative” depiction of the fictional police force as it demoralizes the men in uniform.

Talk about fake news. Ang Probinsyano is hostage of its own success. The PNP is hostage to its failures.

The man in the mirror. We’d rather that our police Generals just tell their story. What has the PNP done in the face of the slew of police crimes? The rape of private citizens or, worse, of persons in custody, usually minors; the disgusting palit puri scheme where sexual favors are demanded in exchange for freedom or leniency for detained family members; the rape of rookie police personnel. We continue to read about police involvement in violence (also against their own), corruption, gambling and, yes, drugs. 

Does the PNP have comprehensive data on the crimes committed by their men, the better to develop policies in mitigation? All we have now are the results of investigations, newspaper accounts, isolated studies. And these are hampered by the notorious realities of underreporting and the handicap of accuracy/integrity issues of agency records.

We are nowhere near the ideal institutional database that would promote both organizational and scholarly studies to guide future deterrent action. How often are these crimes committed and which ones more than the others? What are the profiles of the recidivists? Do the headquarters, police stations, manuals of police operation make conducive settings for these crimes to occur?

Propagating this culture of research and data formalization would likewise foster the empirical potency of PNP’s assertions. They say the show demoralizes the police force? Where is the data?

You have to earn it. To contribute to fixing the problem, its best to act constructively rather than whine and deny. Initiate the research on police related crimes. Surely we’ve become accustomed to General Albayalde and NCRPO Chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar’s disciplinary streak. These have gone on full display with alarming incidence among his erring men. But respect for his organization has to be earned. If literature and the TV networks engage in negative depictions, then see it as a wake up call.

It is this series of police crimes, not even counting the extra judicial killings including that of Korean businessman Jee Ick Joo at PNP HQ, that strikes the hardest blow on the PNP image of serve and protect. Blaming the TV show has truly been one of the most comedic, slapstick routines we have witnessed. Even nincompoops deserve a better script. Instead of diverting attention away from their follies and foibles, all they’ve succeeded in doing is to cement public acknowledgment of the police force’s sorry state.

A scalpel for free speech. The PNP will also be well served to recall the famous Holmesian affirmation: “if there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought – not free thought for those who agree with us, but freedom for the thought that we hate.” 

Like the US from which these societal traditions find their roots, we have chosen as a nation to chart a course that provides space for speech we may disagree with or even that which may hurt us, in the name of respecting the free market of ideas. Public interest is served when all kinds of thought are allowed to co-exist in open discussion. Thus, we can better understand our neighbors and be more convincing in the effort to help them understand us back. The way to defeat a bad idea is not to suppress it but to try and change it in the crucible of debate.

In authoritarian states – Syria, Libya, North Korea, Iran, etc. – there is no such libertarian tradition of freedom to criticize the conduct of public men. In Iran, you will be jailed for insulting a public official. Our generals must have been channeling their inner ayatollahs when they threatened to sue the producers of Ang Probinsyano for portrayals hitting too close to home.

My favorite perspective here comes from Pilo Hilbay: “Commitment to freedom, after all, is just self-interest when you’re promoting it for your own ends. It only becomes a principle when we fight for it to protect someone else.”

Solar Eclipse. We argued for the return of H.B. 8179 granting that super franchise to Solar Para Sa Bayan (SPBS) to committee as it could clearly use refinements. The capability of the proponent to deliver on their commitments is also in question since unflattering reports from their pilot areas have surfaced. Where is the report of the lead committee, the House committee  on energy of Cong. Lord Allan Velasco?

Congress, when serious in defending the public interest, can be painfully thorough. Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes P.A. Sereno’s case merited 17 hearings in 5 months. In the Senate, 11 months and 20 public hearings were devoted to the charges against Vice President Jejomar Binay. According to Sen. Joker Arroyo, this was the longest committee hearing in Senate history. For this H.B. granting a nationwide super franchise to SPSB, touted as the answer to all our energy needs, we have had a grand total of 1. There was also that additional executive session of the franchise committee members but with the SPSB proponent in attendance.

Still, this rush to passage. With all the secrecy and all the haste. Questions and doubts will continue to hound this special application until Congress resolves to do its job.

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