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Opinion

Chief for 6 months

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

The original implementer of Oplan Tokhang, Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, has said he has one regret: the bloody campaign against the drug menace was launched without first cleaning up the police force.

He omitted mentioning another problem: repeated public pronouncements from his boss President Duterte, which tended to bring out the inner beast in cops carrying out the war on drugs.

Will this police culture of shoot to kill rather than disable, of shoot now and ask questions later, ever be eradicated?

Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, recently appointed as chief of the Philippine National Police, is trying to curb PNP abuses.

Apart from cleaning up the PNP ranks of rotten eggs, Eleazar is putting emphasis on physically cleaning up all police stations and offices.

This is not just because of the need for hygienic surroundings during the COVID pandemic. Eleazar told us on One News’ “The Chiefs” shortly after assuming the top PNP post last month that unkempt cops and shabby offices project shabby service and neglect, which won’t inspire public confidence in the police force.

An adherent of the broken windows theory, which links disorder to subsequent misbehavior and criminality, Eleazar wants cops to pay attention to details – whether in their offices or in the communities that they are mandated to keep safe – with the awareness of the details’ significance in effective law enforcement.

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Cleaning up the PNP is a continuing task. Eleazar is encouraging the public to report abusive cops. So far he has acted swiftly on the high-profile cases reported under his watch, placing the erring cops under arrest and immediately initiating proceedings for possible dismissal from the service as well as criminal prosecution.

This is unlike his unlamented predecessor Debold Sinas, who said people should not take photos and videos of crimes in progress because the criminal might turn on them.

Sinas issued the warning after police Senior Master Sergeant Jonel Nuezca was caught on video shooting pointblank a 52-year-old woman and her 25-year-old son in Paniqui, Tarlac during an altercation last December.

During Eleazar’s watch, 18-year-old Edwin Arnigo, diagnosed with autism, was shot dead by police SM/Sgt. Christopher Salcedo in a raid on a cockfighting game in Valenzuela. In Fairview, Quezon City, a 52-year-old woman was also shot dead on May 31 by her drunk neighbor, police M/Sgt. Hensie Zinampan. Eleazar described Zinampan as an “animal” who did not deserve to stay in the PNP.

There are many other cases of abuse of police power, however, particularly in the war on drugs. And many of those abuses no doubt were committed because the cops believe President Duterte has their back.

Eleazar has since announced that PNP records on the drug killings would be opened to the Department of Justice, for possible prosecution of abusive cops.

Duterte, who has repeatedly reassured those carrying out his anti-drug campaign of freedom from prosecution, quickly said not all drug records could be opened because this could compromise national security.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, a former justice secretary, then cited a 2019 Supreme Court resolution declaring that records of the drug war have no national security implications.

The DOJ had originally announced that the PNP would share 61 cases in which drug suspects were killed in police operations. The 61, Eleazar explained, were the cases wherein possible police liability in the deaths was determined. Eleazar later brought this down further to 53, saying eight cases were on appeal.

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How much can a PNP chief accomplish in just six months?

Not a lot, Eleazar admits. This is too bad for the only officer whose appointment by Duterte as PNP chief has been lauded even by groups often critical of the administration.

Eleazar should have been promoted to PNP chief much earlier. But Duterte had to give the controversial Sinas a premium exit (and a fat lifetime retirement pension), and gave him several months in the top PNP post. The revolving door policy for PNP and military chiefs, costly for taxpayers, needs remedial legislation.

Even with his limited time, however, Eleazar believes he can still make a difference, although he is trying to manage expectations.

This month certain PNP anti-narcotics units will start wearing body cameras in their operations. The PNP will also be working with the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission to fight graft within the ranks.

Regular psychiatric exams are being considered for PNP personnel – although the exams are also a source of corruption. On orders of Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, protocols for the use of service firearms by off-duty cops are under review.

Eleazar says PNP cleansing must start at the recruitment stage. Several persons have been arrested in connection with rackets to facilitate acceptance in the PNP.

Since assuming office, he has said he wants to put an end to the padrino or sponsorship system in entering the PNP as well as in appointments and promotions.

*      *      *

On The Chiefs, we asked Eleazar how he intended to eliminate this entrenched padrino culture, considering that the usual padrinos are politicians and even influence-peddling religious groups.

What would he say to such padrinos? He would politely turn them down, he said, and explain to them how it would be good for both the PNP and the country in general.

I was tempted to say, good luck on that – and good luck on the approval of the PNP’s annual budget by Congress. But wait, there’s more.

In addition to personal persuasion, Eleazar is drawing up specific criteria and requirements that must be met by PNP applicants, with the process digitized, including the issuance of QR codes.

With a digital trail that can be opened to the public for scrutiny if needed, intervention on behalf of an applicant who fails to meet the requirements can be risky for a politician.

Eleazar is hoping that as the public sees the positive impact of this new process and other reforms he is implementing, it will be difficult for his successors to reverse the moves.

For the sake of the nation, let’s hope Eleazar manages to make a difference.

OPLAN TOKHANG RONALD DELA ROSA
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