By FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JEJOMAR C. BINAY
As far as I can recall, this is the first time that our chief executive and commander-in-chief has publicly chastised the police. In the past, he has given the police a virtual license to kill, even proclaiming that he would pardon them should they be convicted in court.
How then do we construe the President’s candid remarks? Hardline critics would dismiss it as an example of irrational behavior, which is unfair and unkind. A hallmark of an intelligent person, so goes conventional wisdom, is that he changes his mind when presented with new facts. And the President may have seen the light of facts and converted. Those who question the President’s conversion have obviously not read the story of Paul of Tarsus, the persecutor of Christians who saw the light and was converted on the road to Damascus.
For that is what could have happened to the President. It is nothing less than a conversion on the road towards the end of his term.
In case you are not familiar with the story, the President was reacting to news reports that a mayor from Mindanao, in Cebu ostensibly for a conference, had died in an ambush on his way to the city prosecutor’s office.
The mayor was earlier arrested after he allegedly imposed himself on a female massage attendant, demanding “extra services” that the poor woman refused. The mayor allegedly manhandled the woman.
According to reports, the mayor was yanked out of the vehicle and shot dead. The heavily armed police escorts did not shoot back. The slain mayor, it turns out, was included in the government’s narco-list.
The media reported the President as saying: “Yan na ang sinasabi ko. PNP, ano’ng ginawa ng PNP? Baka sila ang pumatay, eh, sila yung malapit (That’s what I’ve been saying. What did the PNP do? Perhaps they killed him, they were the ones near him).”
He added: “I’d like to order the police to terminate their investigation and hand it over to the NBI – whatever documents and/or proof or evidence that they have in their hands. Somebody was out to get him.”
As to the cause of the President’s epiphany, we can only guess. Could it be the results of a previous survey where his trust rating declined significantly? But the Palace had said the President is not concerned with surveys. So that could not have been the reason. Also, to change policies and positions just to pander to surveys shows lack of conviction and backbone. No one is accusing the President of lacking either.
Could it be that he has had enough with the PNP? Probably the depth of the President’s resentment over the ninja cops controversy — where his appointed PNP chief turned out to have a checkered history of protecting cops who recycled seized drugs — was too deep that he felt he could no longer trust the PNP to bring his personal drug crusade to a definitive end. But that would be to say that the President’s men failed to conduct a thorough background check of the previous PNP chief. This is a mortal sin among underlings. Besides, intensive background checks of high-level appointments are considered standard practice and a sign of efficient and competent management. No one is saying, however, that the President’s men are not efficient and competent.
Perhaps it would be best not to speculate. But with this development, I expect the PNP to take their cue from the President. They should take the initiative in investigating similar incidents in the past three years.
The PNP can begin with the 22,983 drug-related deaths classified as “homicides under investigation.” We have yet to hear if progress has been made in these “investigations.” Most of these killings have been attributed by the police to vigilante groups or members of rival drug gangs. But watchdogs like Human Rights Watch (HRW) believe the killers could be working closely with police.
The PNP can also look deeper into the report of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) that over 5,500 persons have died in the government’s drug war from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2019.
As reported by the online news site Rappler based on official disclosures, these deaths — 5,526 individuals to be exact — happened in the course of 134,583 anti-drug operations. Human rights groups, however, place a higher estimate of as much as 27,000 lives, including the victims of vigilante-style killings.
Of these deaths, the PNP’s Internal Affairs Services (IAS) is investigating the death of 461 while under police custody. The deaths were recorded from July, 2016, up to August this year but an IAS official, in an interview, said, they would first resolve the matter internally. What does that mean? These matters are of public interest. Given the President’s sour mood, the IAS would be advised to make their findings public.
But for now, let us give the President a well-earned applause for acknowledging the existence of EJKs. As of this writing, the President’s indictment of the police has not been clarified, contradicted, or denied by the usually quick-on-the-draw palace spokesperson. He has not declared it a joke. Not yet, anyway.