When the government imposed a lockdown on March 15 to prevent the spread of the deadly COVID-19, hundreds of policemen were poured at the borders of every town and cities in Luzon to contain the unnecessary movement of people.
The number of police deployment ballooned to more or less a third of the 220,000 personnel of the Philippine National Police (PNP) as cities and municipalities in the Visayas and Mindanao also implemented their own community quarantine measures and as health and security experts saw the need to make the presence of the police felt on every streets to compel the people to behave towards protecting themselves at least via wearing of face masks and observing physical distancing.
The Joint Task Force COVID Shield, then headed by Police Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, even went to the extent of deploying elite police commandos and soldiers on board armed personnel carriers to force hard-headed people not to go out – an effective formula which health experts acknowledged to be contributing factor in the reduction of COVID cases which was later adopted in Cebu City when an upsurge of infection was monitored in the middle of this year.
It was later described as two hits in one single shot.
As police aggressively rounded up quarantine violators that have so far reached more than 500,000, police presence in the community to force people to stay home led to an unprecedented steep decline of criminal cases that peaked to more than 60 percent in the second quarter of 2020.
This was coupled by almost 80 percent crime solution efficiency in the first nine months of this year.
But the active involvement of policemen in quarantine rules implementation came with a big price as almost 9,000 PNP personnel have been infected by the coronavirus, with 27 dying of health complications.
Realizing the health risks that his men face every day, then PNP chief Police Gen. Archie Francisco Gamboa initiated moves to come up with their own COVID-19 testing facility, explaining that putting up at least one would mean lesser burden for the government amid criticisms of failure to conduct mass testing.
So far, two molecular laboratories are operational in Camp Crame in Quezon City which could accommodate a maximum 420 tests a day while two more are expected to open – one in Cebu City for Visayas cops and another one in Davao City for Mindanao PNP personnel.
BUMPS ON THE WAY
The hard work and sacrifices of policemen, however, was marred by allegations of double standard in the implementation of quarantine rules as an incumbent senator was accused of violating the health safety protocol – and went unpunished so far – while ordinary people either ended up in jail or were receiving inhumane punishments that include being locked up in dog cages, being forced to do pushups and in some cases, being beaten up by their captors.
The biggest quarantine-related controversy that the PNP was dragged into was when then Metro Manila police chief Police Major Gen. Debold Sinas was accused of violating the lockdown rules using photos that were released ironically by the National Capital Region Police (NCRPO) Public Information Office staff as a press release.
The quarantine violation in May, now infamously referred to as “mañanita,” was a traditional serenade to commanders by their subordinates in the first hour of the morning on their birth anniversaries. It was Sinas’ birthday.
The mañanita in Taguig City led to the collapse of the move to improve the image of the PNP that was already gaining ground when it got the support of the public when a police officer’s strict implementation of quarantine rules in gated subdivision in Makati City led to the perpetual ban of an Spanish expat to enter the Philippines, and a police officer castigating residents of a posh condominium also in Makati City for breaking the health safety protocols.
As the era of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 1986 closed with the retirement of Police Gen. Camilo Pancratius Cascolan –the fourth PMA Class 1986 member who was appointed as top cop – observers were surprised after Sinas, a PMA Class 1987 member, was appointed as the next chief PNP on Nov. 10.
Social media erupted anew with memes and insults directed at Sinas but the new chief PNP projected his own version of bouncing back from the controversy by initiating his physical fitness program in the police organization with him as the model – Sinas lost 25 kilos in a span of three months before his assumption as top cop.
Sinas also took the bold step of overturning the policies initiated by his predecessor, particularly in the localization of assignment program, stating that he is not a fan of numerical agenda of sitting PNP chiefs as he stressed that the police organization has already existing plans and programs that serve as a guide on how the PNP should be run.
But the stigma created by the controversial mañanita became the tool of the government’s critics in assailing both the PNP and the Duterte administration on various issues, especially on the issue of accountability – and the alleged lack of it.
BLOOD IN THE BADGE
The sudden burst of uncontrolled anger by an irate police sergeant over a land dispute in Tarlac dragged the PNP in a bad light.
All of a sudden, Police Staff Sgt. Jonel Nuezca became the face of allegations of police abuse and killings that the PNP continue to nurse as a result of the aggressive drug war that has so far left more or less 6,000 drug personalities killed since 2016 – and thousands more allegedly executed by drug war-inspired vigilante groups.
It was a bad timing in terms of positive public perception as the PNP is still enjoying praises on their response during the three-in-a-row typhoons that hit Luzon – “Quinta,” “Rolly,” and “Ulysses” and still relishing the inclusion of the Philippines in the top 50 list of the Global Law and Order report.
Concerns about police abuses are understandable because last July, it was the same outrage that the people felt when two Ilocos Sur policemen were accused of raping a teenage girl who violated a curfew and were later tagged in the killing of her 15-year-old companion Fabel Pineda who was able to escape from being raped but was murdered while on her way home after filing a complaint against Police Staff Sgts. Marawi Torda and Randy Ramos.
The Paniqui and Cabugao, Ilocos Sur murders were just two of the major controversies that rocked the PNP this year. In fact, the police organization is one of the hardest hit if claims about a stroke of bad luck that comes with the year 2020 were true.
In October, a police officer who was assigned to head the security and welfare of inmates, Police Lt. Col. Jigger Noceda, was accused of sexually assaulting former Vice Mayor Nova Parojinog, daughter of slain Ozamiz City Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog who is being linked to illegal drugs trade along with his relatives, inside the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame, Quezon City.
In April, the PNP was accused of brutality when a Quezon City policeman shot dead former Corporal Winston Ragos, who was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder due to his previous assignments, that stemmed from a violation of home quarantine rule.
And on June 29, four military intelligence operatives led by Major Marvin Indammog was tailing a small group of foreign suspected bombers when they were stopped by local policemen in Jolo, Sulu.
The four military intelligence operatives later ended up dead in front of the Jolo Police Station as they were repeatedly shot by nine local cops.
The incident triggered anger in the ranks of local soldiers that President Duterte himself had to pay a visit to them to ease the tension.
What aggravated the situation was allegations of planting of evidence and claims that one of the slain soldiers was connected to illegal drugs operations of his relatives.
The nine policemen are now facing murder charges and are restricted in Camp Crame, which appeared to be a safe place for them since the Jolo police chief during the incident was later shot dead in Maguindanao.
Weeks after the death of four military intelligence operatives, a twin bombing rocked downtown Jolo and killed 15 people, most of them soldiers and civilians.
TRAGEDY AMID MODERNIZATION
On March 5, Gamboa was injured along with three other police generals when the newly bought PNP chopper they were riding in crashed in San Pedro, Laguna a few minutes after takeoff near the police impounding site for confiscated vehicles that they inspected.
But the helicopter crash, which resulted in the death of Police Major Gen. Joevic Ramos seven months later due to serious injury, highlighted the fast and big bulk of modernization in the PNP which include the procurement of 10 PNP helicopters so far.
The last time the PNP tried to have its presence felt in the air was in early 2010 but was tainted with a corruption scandal as it turned out that the two helicopters were second-hand but were bought by the PNP at the price of brand new ones.
The procurement of 10 choppers has also activated the pilot training course in the PNP which has so far produced 11 police pilots.