By Aaron Recuenco
In the morning of November 29, 2013, a group of anti-narcotics policemen of Pampanga raided the alleged safehouse of a drug lord in Mexico town in what could have been the biggest drug haul that year.
Six years later, that raid became the biggest scandal that rocked the Philippine National Police (PNP) as it forced the highest ranking police official, General Oscar Albayalde, to quit a few days before his retirement and became the sole reason why the national police organization is still virtually headless more than two months after the top police post was vacated.
Based on the investigation report, the policemen involved in the controversial Pampanga drug raid possibly earned more or less P250 million, both from the reselling of the stolen shabu and the multi-million pesos they were allegedly able to extort from the drug lord that they arrested and later freed.
The Pampanga drug-recycling and extortion controversy quickly demolished the good image of the drug war that the PNP has been trying to rebuild following the Kian delos Santos execution and Jee Ick Joo kidnap-slay blunders.
After arresting more than 100 policemen and killing at least five cops allegedly caught in the act of drug-dealing from 2017 to 2018, the anti-scalawag unit of the PNP, the Counter-Intelligence Task Force (CITF) and later named to IMEG (Integrity Monitoring and Enforcement Group) has been reporting fewer cases of cops being arrested for drug-related extortion racket in 2019.
The 2nd quarter survey of the Social Weather Stations published (SWS) in September (conducted before the Pampanga drug raid controversy) also showed that 82 percent of Filipinos were satisfied with the drug war. The same SWS survey (conducted before Albayalde was pinned down in the Senate probe) published this month also showed practically the same result.
The Pampanga drug-recycling controversy also exposed what appeared to be a double standard in the internal cleansing in the police organization.
On October 2 this year, the PNP leadership reported that since July 2016, there were 448 policemen dismissed from the service for involvement in illegal drugs.
But the Senate probe on Pampanga drug-recycling disclosed that the 13 policemen involved were recalled from their Mindanao duty punishment and were given juicy posts in Luzon.
Maj. Rodney Baloyo, the head of the raiding team, became the acting city director of the Tagaytay Police for several months—a post that should have been handled by a police official with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, at least.
Four others, headed by Police Lt. Joven de Guzman, were given good assignments in Antipolo City and were only dismissed from the service last October for yet another case of robbery extortion perpetrated against a young man who they accused of being involved in illegal drugs.
The biggest downside for the PNP this year, however, was President Duterte’s vocal expression of disgust and distrust on the police force—the reason why it was taking him so long to choose the next PNP chief.
The PNP is currently headed by an Officer-In-Charge, Lt. Gen. Archie Francisco Gamboa.
In late 2017, Congress allocated more than P300 million for the PNP to purchase body cameras in a bid to make the illegal drugs-related operations transparent amid the never-ending accusations of extra-judicial killings and human rights abuses.
Two years later, the PNP has still not been able to even reach first base in the procurement process, with top police officials saying early this year that it was due to disagreement in specifications.
But it was only recently, that it was finally disclosed that the reason why the procurement of bodycams was taking too long was because at least three police officials, all with a rank of major, tried to make money out of it by extorting P5 million from one of the bidders.
All the three cops—Majors Emerson Sales, Rholly Carggayan and Angel Berros— have already been dismissed on orders of Gamboa.
The procurement of bodycams, however, made a breakthrough this month with the awarding of the P289-million contract to a San Juan-based company—saving the PNP from losing the bodycam fund since it is set to expire on December 31 this year.
It was also this year that the leadership of the Internal Affairs Service (IAS), the watchdog of the PNP, found the guts to declare that it wanted to be separated from the police organization.
In seeking for its separation from the PNP, IAS Inspector General Alfegar Triambulo said that it wanted independence, and wanted to have more teeth in disciplining erring cops.
In October this year, the Manila Bulletin reported why the IAS appears to be disappointed on the current system of the agency being under the PNP leadership.
In a letter addressed to a senator, the IAS leadership exposed that groups of corrupt police officials and rank-and-file employees of the PNP appear to have been cashing in on huge sums of money from erring policemen by allowing them to skip the penalties in administrative cases in which they were found guilty.
The expose was based on the study conducted by the IAS of the cases it handled from 2015 to 2017, wherein it showed that out of the 2,341 cases it resolved, only 30 percent of them were implemented while the bulk of the cases, or 1,710 which represents 70 percent of the cases, remained unimplemented.
The document also stated that out of the 2,341 cases, a total of 567 of them had a recommendation for dismissal of involved policemen but only 159 of them were implemented.
“This seem to confirm the worst fears of connivance between these ‘rogue cops’ and some corrupt PNP officials/rank and file personnel who coddle the former for personal reasons or allow them to escape justice for a fee,” the letter from IAS read.
“Small wonder then that the culture of impunity appears to have set in among the ranks of the PNP. Most of its erring personnel are not being disciplined promptly as required. Indeed, justice delayed is justice denied,” letter read.
Despite the challenges that hounded the PNP this year, there have been significant improvements especially in terms of capability enhancement.
Just recently, the PNP received the seventh of the 10 helicopters it purchased to improve its mobility and operational capability. Three more helicopters will be delivered next year.
The air assets of the PNP will be complemented by the additional 51 drones, which Gamboa said would be used in tactical operations and disaster preparedness and response.
Thousands of assault rifles and handguns were delivered and the catch is that the PNP got a discount of more or less 50 percent from the original price of the firearms.
In terms of recruitment, the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) was able to somehow shield the police organization from the padrino system by implementing a strict screening process from the recruitment, training up to the hiring process.
Thanks to the aggressive reforms in recruitment system which was introduced and implemented in 2018—a process which prevented local chief executives and other politicians, some of them involved in illegal drugs trades, from forcing ranking police officials to prioritize those whom they recommended.
The delay in the appointment of the new Chief PNP seems to be understandable, as President Duterte appears to have learned his lesson–the hard way— for either deliberately being kept blind or for disregarding the background check of his police appointees before.
It is not immediately clear if President Duterte has already ordered a background check on all the contenders for the next PNP chief, but analysts said that the background check, especially on the aspect of honesty and morality, would be crucial in the selection in order for the PNP to be able to bounce back from the stigma brought by the Pampanga drug raid scandal but also to improve the tainted image of the drug war.