Filipinos exasperated with “hoodlums in police uniforms” may now heave a sigh of relief with the appointment of Police General Guillermo Eleazar as chief of the Philippine National Police.
As in any organization, the quality of leadership is crucial. If beyond reproach, it can be very inspiring. Gen. Eleazar’s brand of leadership can certainly inspire the police rank and file to strive for excellence that, in turn, inspires immense public support.
His reputation precedes him and many are of the impression that Gen. Eleazar’s leadership is legendary.
I first became aware of his no-nonsense style during the 1990s when I was governor of Laguna province. He was chief of police then in San Pedro, Laguna. His sterling achievements during his tour of duty there earned him an award as “best junior police officer of the Philippines” and I knew that he had what it takes to be a great cop.
Gauging from his past performance as head of the National Capital Region Police Office, all the way to being the Number 2 in the PNP hierarchy, Gen. Eleazar has shown that he knows the value of “fixing broken windows” to help regain the people’s trust and confidence in the PNP.
The “broken windows theory” in criminology, best demonstrated decades ago in New York City where vandals who see an abandoned building with a few broken windows decide to break more until all are destroyed and the entire building is ruined and the whole neighborhood is in shambles, implies that minor crimes if left undeterred will eventually escalate into bigger and more serious crimes.
Thus, minor infractions like “kotong” must not be simply tolerated, lest a single broken window could lead to more destruction until the entire organization is in shambles. And Gen. Eleazar is certainly aware of such danger.
“For as long as I’m the chief PNP, every single centavo of your hard-earned money allocated to us will be in good hands. To the remaining hoodlums in police uniforms, I will make sure that you will hate me. I will not think twice about removing corrupt police officers because with the amount of salary and benefits that the government gives us, I am sure many would want to replace all of you,” he said in his assumption speech last week.
Gen. Eleazar can certainly walk his talk. We’ve seen his televised outbursts against an extortionist cop caught with marked money in an entrapment, and against police officers caught sleeping on the job while in the graveyard shift. We’ve seen his frustration over how some policemen are still branded “pulis patola” despite the many benefits, including doubling of salaries, granted by President Duterte.
Indeed, for the longest time, our country continues to be saddled with a police force suffering from a sullied image, lawmen who betray the trust bestowed on them when they are armed and equipped to uphold the law, cops who make a mockery of their sworn commitment when they become criminals themselves.
There are countless stories of law enforcers turned lawbreakers, of abusive policemen who prey on hapless citizens some of whom die while in police custody. So many victims of police abuses have had to bear the brunt of the impunity of those supposedly sworn to serve and protect.
Of course, most men and women in uniform remain loyal to their sworn commitment, put their lives on the line, always strive to enforce the law with utmost professionalism, and would not tolerate colleagues who go astray.
Yet while it’s true that scalawags might constitute just a small minority, the grim reality is that they can shape public perception or even subvert the criminal justice system. The impact on public perception of the bad eggs can unfairly depict the entire basket to be rotten.
But the dire situation can become better with the exemplary leadership of Gen. Eleazar who seems to be dead serious in his relentless pursuit of honest-to-goodness internal cleansing of the police force now under him.
He knows that proper recruitment and instilling moral values on recruits is essential. He said the bar code system, instead of the name and other details of the recruit, is being now used to prevent meddling by influential people who could bring in undesirables. The recruitment process should keep out shady characters. As the 19th-century social reformer Frederick Douglass said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
And Gen. Eleazar knows weeding out the bad eggs within the PNP must be relentless.
“Even if we have qualified new PNP personnel with the proper training, kung ang madadatnan naman nitong mga bagitong pulis ay mga kasamahang bad influence na magtuturo sa kanila ng mga maling sistema ng pangongotong, pagiging tamad, abusado at gahaman sa pera, wala ring mangyayari (if they come across colleagues who are bad influence, who will teach them wrongful acts like extortion, laziness, abuse of authority and greed for money, nothing [good] will happen),” he said.
Gen. Eleazar’s leadership is critical in these perilous times. Though his tenure would last only six months until his retirement, his short stint may be a turning point for a truly better PNP. I wish him all the best. Like many Filipinos, I hope that his stewardship of our police force would inspire everyone and bring out the best in crime-fighting efforts – from citizens, local officials, and the men and women of the PNP.
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