The following is a short paper I presented at the round-table discussion on corruption, criminality and the PNP sponsored by Bayan and Pagbabago People’s Movement held last October 15, 2014 at the UP Women’s Center.
If one goes by the reams of laws, guidelines, circulars, memos, operations and training manuals and what have you to ensure professionalism and integrity in the police force, the Philippine National Police (PNP) can probably count as among the best in the world. There are redundant checks and balances, oversight mechanisms, disciplinary procedures and safeguard mechanism that are supposed to prevent corruption, abuse and incompetence in the ranks. You have the National Police Commission (NAPOLCOM), the Internal Affairs Service (IAS) and the People’s Law Enforcement Board (PLEB), among others.
Yet two images continue to stand out: the pulis patola, with his distended belly and unbuttoned uniform, lazily perched in the police detachment as the criminals operate with impunity in his area, and the hoodlum in uniform with his raised gun, conducting yet another hulidap operation.
The PNP, then as it is now, has distinguished itself as hopelessly corrupt and abusive. There is an avalanche of horror stories about police incompetence, corruption, human rights abuse and involvement in criminal activities. Nothing seems to cure the deep-seated, systemic problems of the PNP. No amount of reorganizations, revamps, reshufflings, strike one policies, human rights education seminars, or moral recovery campaigns has worked.
I think we can all agree that this is not a simple problem of misfits and scalawags infiltrating the police force. No amounts of screening of police applicants or increased requirements have solved the problem. In fact, we have seen how even idealistic, right-minded young people who entered the service were eaten and mangled by the institution and converted into the anti-thesis of what professional law enforcers should be. And it seems to have gotten worse.
To have a better appreciation of the issue, it is important to view the problem in its historical, institutional and socio-political context.
A colonial instrument of repression
The PNP can be directly traced to the Insular Constabulary created by the colonial US government in 1901, later renamed the Philippine Constabulary. The main job of the PC was to quell the country’s revolutionary and nationalist forces that resisted American colonial rule. Much like the Spanish Guardia Civil, the PC was used by the Americans to impose its brutal and exploitative colonial rule over the local population. Thus started the PNP’s history and tradition as an instrument of oppression against our very own people. In fact, up until 1991 when it was abolished to form the PNP, the PC-INP was a major branch of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) engaged in counter-insurgency. Until now, the PNP plays a key role in internal security operations that commonly target anti-imperialist and progressive movements working for fundamental social reforms.
After the Japanese Occupation in 1946, the PC was used by the US to go after Hukbalahap guerillas that fought against the Japanese but opposed the return of US colonial rule. It became instrumental in imposing the post-WW II social order that granted Philippine independence but under the continued domination and exploitation of the US as its neocolonial patron. The PC and AFP as a whole served as pawns in the US Cold War agenda and were used against anti-imperialist and progressive movements not only in the Philippines but in Korea and Vietnam as well.
Complementary to the PC, the municipalities and cities formed their own local police forces under the control of the mayors and governors. This was the Integrated National Police or INP. Given the feudal and semi-feudal character of most of the archipelago, the INP ended up as private armies and adjuncts of the political dynasties and warlords that lorded over most of the country’s towns and provinces. The involvement of PNP officers in the Maguindanao massacre showed how things have hardly changed.
In 1975, the biggest warlord of them all, Ferdinand Marcos, merged the PC and the INP into one branch of the AFP called the PC-INP. This made the police even more notorious in violating human rights and serving as thugs of the US-backed fascist dictatorship and the local warlords. In tandem with other branches of the AFP, the PC-INP became the main machinery for open fascist rule. It was used to crack down on criminals as well as ordinary citizens who dared exercise their civil, political and democratic rights.
Under martial law, the PC-INP and the entire military and police establishment reached the pinnacle of its power. Becoming the rulers themselves, they lorded it over everyone and became answerable to no one. But as the saying goes, absolute power corrupts absolutely. PC-INP officials eventually started taking over the vacuum left by criminal syndicates supposedly dismantled by the New Society. Thus did the culture of impunity spread like a virus infecting the lowest to the highest-ranking member of the PC-INP.
Upon the fall of the Marcos dictatorhip in 1986, the PC-INP and the AFP managed to shield themselves from being held accountable for its numerous crimes against the people. Considering the 14 years of massive violations of human rights, corruption and abuse committed by the police and military during martial law, hardly any of its officials and personnel was charged, much less punished. Not only did the police and military institutions remain intact but also the traditions and practices that were perverted by 14 years of absolute power.
The so-called abolition of the PC-INP and its replacement of the PNP, which claimed to be civilian in character and national in scope, did little to change the deeply ingrained traditions and practices of what is essentially a para-military force.
Coercive apparatus of a corrupt, anti-people socio-economic and political system
Police and military forces serve as the coercive apparatus of a particular socio-economic and political system. They are the only ones permitted to use violence and force to prevent citizens from violating that system’s laws and regulations. With that power comes immense possibilities for abuse. The challenge is for our uniformed personel to develop the extraordinary fortitude and integrity to remain upright.
Unfortunately, that challenge is made extremely difficult in a political system dominated by dynasties and other elite interests, where plunder and patronage is the name of the game. The police, as the protectors of that flawed system, will necessarily end up just as corrupt and abusive as the political rulers.
My guess is that after decades of serving colonial masters, local dynasties and oligarchs, and after experiencing how it is to lord it over the country via martial law, the PNP has become hopelessly corrupt. It has developed its own internal mechanisms to make use of the oppressive and corrupt system of governance to enrich its own set of elites – officers coming almost entirely from the Philippine Military Academy (PMA).
I read in a recent blog post by an anonymous PNP officer how previously, it was the intelligence officer that was the primus inter pares among police officials because he would have access to all the gambling lords and other criminal syndicates which was the main source of income by the PNP officials. Of late, he said, the comptroller has replaced the intelligence officer as the primus inter pares. Why? Because the PNP officers find it easier and more lucrative to steal PNP funds than shake down the criminal syndicates.
And so we have the PNP that we have now – a tool to repress the people’s social and democratic movements and a chronic violator of human rights and international humanitarian law. It is also the biggest criminal syndicate in town. From gunrunning, drug trafficking, kidnap for ransom, prostitution rings, protection rackets to illegal gambling operations, it’s like SM – they’ve got it all.
Changes in PNP can only happen in the context of wide-ranging social reforms
To reform the police force, I say we need to abolish the PNP as we know it and replace it with a new police agency that steers clear of the PNP’s long history and tradition as a military and para-military mercenary institution. The new police force should not only be truly civilian in character but community-centered in its function. The following changes will be necessary:
- Reorient the entire police force into a truly civilian, law enforcement agency that is transparent and fully accountable to the public;
- Give back full power and accountability of LGUs over the police force while ensuring effective oversight, check and balance by the DILG;
- Overhaul the top-heavy structure and orientation of the police force to be community-based and community-centered, approximating the local baranggay;
- Dismantle the PMA mafia over the police force, including the police academy;
- Provide adequate training, facilities and resources to upgrade and professionalize the police force.
Let us not forget, though, that the PNP is a mere reflection of the corrupt and anti-people political and socio-economic system that we will have to change as well. Otherwise the PNP, even if we are able to institute the above reforms, will surely succumb to its old ways. Thus, any effort to reform the PNP should be part of our efforts to transform the political system as a whole.
In doing these things, it is the people and their social movements who should take the lead.#