Lack of spy equipment has hindered PNP’s capabilities to go after drug lords, terrorists

By Aaron Recuenco

For the longest time, the Philippine National Police (PNP) has repeatedly lobbied and pushed for the upgrade and modernization of its high-tech surveillance equipment to improve its intelligence-gathering and operational capabilities.

However, for every attempt came a prompt and outright rejection even if top government officials in the past agreed with the logic and need for modern wiretapping equipment.

And perhaps, there has been nothing else to blame but politics.

PNP chief Director General Oscar Albayalde (Kevin Tristan Espiritu / MANILA BULLETIN)
PNP chief Director General Oscar Albayalde (KEVIN TRISTAN ESPIRITU / MANILA BULLETIN)

“The main problem on that is that we cannot put that in the General Appropriations Act because politicians do not want it, because we also know that it would not be approved in the Congress,” said PNP chief Director General Oscar Albayalde.

“Not all politicians but most of them would always say that it could be used in politics. That’s why we cannot procure all the wiretapping devices that we want,” he added.

Albayalde said having the latest surveillance equipment was very essential for the PNP, especially in the aspect of fighting illegal drugs trade and terrorism.

Citing the basic concept on law enforcement and national security wherein the government should always be at least one step ahead of the enemies of State, police officials said that this was not the usual case since those in the illegal drugs trade, and those involved in terrorism, have seemed to be one or more steps ahead of the law enforcers.

The result, they said, is wahat the PNP sometimes find itself functioning in the reactive mode, instead of the much preferred preventive mode.

What the PNP only has, according to Albayalde, is an equipment used for triangulation in locating mobile phone calls.

“And it does not even tell the exact location,” said Albayalde.

The PNP mostly rely then on old school intelligence-gathering technique which calls for a wide network of assets and informants, and capitalization on the mistakes of their targets.

Police officials told The Manila Bulletin that the limited capability of the PNP also serves as an answer to the question on why the war on drugs has only yielded what critics describe as the “small fry”, or street pushers and drug users.

“Some of the key players of the illegal drugs trade, especially the bosses, are aware of limited capabilities, and they are capitalizing on it,” a police official who asked for anonymity told the Manila Bulletin.

“But the public should also admire our policemen, the PDEA (Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) agents because despite of limited capabilities, we are still able to arrest and confiscate huge amount of illegal drugs,” the police official added.

It can be recalled that Malacanang earlier claimed that it used wiretapping output of foreign countries in identifying politicians who are involved in illegal drugs.

While the anti-wiretapping law also serves as an obstacle in the procurement of surveillance equipment, police officials underscored that the ability to listen in on phone conversations was still essential in intelligence-gathering, case build-up and mapping out plans to bust drugs syndicates and other criminal syndicates.

Albayalde, however, admitted that another stumbling block was the cost of the surveillance equipment, which come with the proper training for those who will operate them.

“These costs billions so they are really expensive. But these can be used in anti-terrorism, illegal drugs so these are really what we need,” said Albayalde.

Even if there would be specific funds to where the surveillance equipment would be sourced, Albayalde said he expects that some sectors would still raise a howl on the issue.