Asim and ‘arrive’

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

This is how Sen. Ronald dela Rosa describes the style of law enforcement under the new administration: kulang sa asim, kulang sa “arrive” or dating.

Often entertaining in his candor, Bato dela Rosa at least didn’t say kulang sa kamandag or lacking in venom. Under his watch as Rodrigo Duterte’s first head of the Philippine National Police, Dela Rosa became the chief implementer of the venomous Oplan Tokhang, wherein the PNP killed over 6,000 drug suspects ostensibly for resisting arrest or nanlaban.

As Duterte himself would acknowledge after six years, he underestimated the magnitude of the drug menace, and his bloody shock and awe approach failed to eliminate the problem.

Dela Rosa, for his part, has admitted one regret in unleashing Tokhang and later, Oplan Double Barrel: he said he failed to first clean up the PNP to reduce the chances of police abuses.

Although the drug scourge, to no one’s surprise (except maybe Duterte’s?), outlived his administration, those behind the brutal crackdown have expressed no regret about it. They see election results, both in 2019 and this year, as manifestations of public support for the flagship program of the Duterte presidency.

So Dela Rosa is sniffing at the PNP’s seeming departure from the Duterte brand of law enforcement, under its new chief Rodolfo Azurin Jr.

“Feeling invincible again sila with the exit of president Duterte from Malacañang,” Dela Rosa said last week regarding an apparent resurgence of kidnapping for ransom. “They are testing the waters.”

*      *      *

The new police chief, who surely has the blessing of President Marcos in the style of fighting criminality, seems unperturbed.

“We value the preservation of life. And we do not need to threaten criminals because the guidance of our President is very clear, to make this country a safe place whether they are inside or outside of their home,” Azurin told reporters.

“Some are insinuating that some have to die. But my point of view is that when you kill a criminal, we just end the suffering at that very instant,” Azurin said. “But when we start investigating, filing cases and arresting these criminals, and place them behind bars, if they still have 30 years to live in this world, then they would wake up every day regretting the crimes they did to the people.”

Just two months into the new administration, even the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) is finding encouraging words from law enforcers and those in charge of investigating the nanlaban killings.

CHR executive director Jacqueline de Guia told “The Chiefs” on One News last Monday that there seemed to be more effort on the part of the new administration to probe abuses in the drug war and to hold perpetrators accountable.

De Guia is encouraged by the call of Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla to cops who were pressured to participate in possible drug-related extrajudicial killings to testify against colleagues who acted as ringleaders.

She also noted a willingness on the part of Remulla and Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra to work with the CHR in the nanlaban probes.

This is unlike in the previous administration, when Duterte told cops to ignore bleeding heart human rights advocates, and to focus instead on the rights of crime victims and the public’s right to a safe environment.

*      *      *

The current situation is encouraging enough for De Guia to hope that the Marcos administration will still have a change of heart and allow the country to rejoin the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Both Remulla and Guevarra have said the Philippine justice system, although it has its shortcomings, is fully functional and does not need foreign intervention. The ICC, Remulla said, is only for failed states. As far as I can tell, such views constitute the official stand of the Marcos administration on staying out of the ICC.

De Guia says the country should look at the bigger picture, beyond the drug war, keeping ICC intervention in reserve in case a situation arises in which the country becomes unable to prosecute crimes against humanity committed in the country. She cited as an example the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

That invasion, however, did not prevent Ukraine from prosecuting and convicting three Russian soldiers of war crimes in May, with sentences ranging from 11 years to life.

Also, the only country that might invade the Philippines in the foreseeable future is China, which (like the United States, Russia and Israel) is not a member of the ICC. Can the court acquire jurisdiction over Chinese nationals accused of wartime atrocities?

Still, De Guia is optimistic that Marcos might still change his mind on the Philippines rejoining the ICC.

*      *      *

The intellectual brilliance of Ferdinand Marcos the elder has been acknowledged even by many of his staunch critics. What brought him down were systematic human rights violations, epic corruption and abuse of power.

It usually takes about a year before any deal tainted with corruption in a new administration comes to light. Meanwhile, Marcos Junior has tiptoed around the wealth issues hounding his family. Since there are still a slew of court cases in pursuit of ill-gotten wealth, BBM has sustained his campaign tack of no talk, no mistake when it comes to this issue.

For the same reason, he will probably not take the lead in voluntarily releasing his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth, leaving the burden of transparency to the ombudsman where SALNs are filed.

Where Marcos Junior is offering a fresh wind of change is in the human rights department, as even the CHR has noted.

We have six years ahead to see whether BBM will ever find the need to resort to what was described as his father’s constitutional authoritarianism, tossing political enemies and dissenters en masse behind bars.

Showing he’s not his father’s son when it comes to human rights, however, will be easier for him because of the record of his predecessor Duterte. BBM can simply shift gears in the anti-drug campaign – something that he promised yesterday in his birthday interview with his niece.

From the pronouncements of the new PNP chief, the shift is not so much toward a kinder, gentler approach to law enforcement, but a more efficient one.

In effective law enforcement, the state deters criminality not by murdering people before guilt is established, but by the certainty of capture and prosecution. Honest-to-goodness sleuthing and scientific methods of investigation prevail over extrajudicial short cuts.

This goes not only for index crimes against life and property, but also for white collar crimes including graft, plunder, money laundering and financial scams.

That’s the real asim, the real dating or “arrive” in law enforcement.

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