Business World, 6 February 2017


I confess to having been elated with the pivot in Digong’s anti-drug war if temporary. The pursuit and neutralization (EJK as it is understood here) of drug users along with a sprinkling of traffickers (pushers and drug lords) was stayed to give way to the intended cleansing of the PNP and NBI of rogue cops and scalawags who connive with and abet traffickers. This pivot is clearly a step in the right direction and should have been the first step rather than an afterthought. My friends and co-contributors, Romy Bernardo, Noel de Dios, and Toti Chikiamco were less sanguine than me on the depth of the resolve. I cannot blame them.

A day after the pivot announcement, PNP Head Gen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa threw cold water on my elation. After the fire and brimstone rhetoric, he ordered, as the account went, the seven Angeles PNP policemen implicated in the abduction and extortion of three Korean tourists to do pushups! Pushups? The treatment that cadets get for dirty fingernails? Bato and pushups don’t even belong in the same sentence! And after EJK for drug addicts too! Truth indeed is sometimes stranger than fiction in the Philippines.

Forewarnings abounded.

Weren’t we apprised that chief suspect Ricky Sta. Isabel in the Jee kidnap and murder was a re-instatee to PNP after being suspended from service? That three QC cops in an extortion case are being reassigned in February to ARMM; that in December 2016, three police officers of the Tactical Motorized Unit accused of extorting a million pesos were also sent to ARMM; that in November 2016 four officers tagged in the extortion complaint case were reassigned to ARMM? Re-instatement and reassignment seem to define payback for crimes in PNP and NBI.

During the Senate hearing on the Jee case, the NBI director vehemently argued that being separated from service was tantamount to a death sentence because the agent loses his job and income. He was either lying through his teeth or is a complete nincompoop and should be fired.

Happily, four NBI bigwigs have since been relieved of their positions. For re-instatement with full backpay is a well-traveled detour in these agencies.

Rogue members are accorded due process PNP-NBI style: (i) a suit is filed against a rogue cop; with his accumulated millions (P20 million as alleged of Sta. Isabel) the rogue cop mounts a legal or extra legal defense (including intimidation and/or neutralization of potential witnesses and their families; bribery and/or threats to the presiding judge); being absuelto, the rogue cop applies for and is reinstated by the NBI or PNP. Having beaten the system and learning how easy, he repeats the crime with increasing impunity. Result: the kidnapping and murder of Jee and who knows how many others in Camp Crame. (ii) Reassignment to ARMM: with his P20-million wealth, he either (a) resigns from service and sues the agency for abuse of authority, gets a favorable ruling and is reinstated with backpay; (b) if with unfavorable ruling, he insinuates himself as intelligence asset, thus, nameless and supported by non-audited intelligence fund, to his old or another rogue agency; (c) accepts the ARMM reassignment and restarts his kidnapping/extorting ways there. With insider roguery going unpunished, is it any wonder that enforcement has gone rogue?

Still, I cling to naïve hope.

A step in the right direction is precious even if it is only the first in a thousand. How do we ensure the next 999 steps are “right”? More levers of accountability must be installed. In the annals of “quis custodes custodiet?” one fact stands out: without adequate punishment for knavery by guardians of the law, the guardians will turn predators. Let the penalty for rascaldry by members of the enforcement fraternity be ten, nay, a hundred times that imposed on ordinary citizens.

The mention of a “helicopter drop” for Dumlao and Sta. Isabel was roundly applauded in staid gatherings I happened upon. No other punishment seems appropriate. But alas the rogues will instead be accorded “due process Philippine-style” which they have learned long ago to beat. Hope ebbs.

The stink revealed in the Jee case is symptomatic of the necrosis in the Philippine criminal justice system as a whole. “Due process Philippine-style” and the inability to punish bigwigs is the anchor of the massive approval rating of Digong “The Punisher.” We are aware that big-time traffickers and rapists in New Bilibid penitentiary have transformed the prison into a luxury hotel complete with furlough and escort services on demand.

The Supreme Court, yes the Supreme Court, bent backwards and allowed Al Argosino to take his oath in 1995 after he was convicted in connection with the death of law student Raul Camaligan because he (Argosino) was “not inherently of bad moral fiber.” Now BI Commissioner Argosino is videotaped with a bagful of bribery money!

It is yet another example of the general observation that hard measures, whether criminal or economic, unsupported by strong institutions, will turn gold into muck. In the Jee case, the rogue elements used the hard war on drugs to cover an orgy of extortion and murder.

What the skeptics and optimists alike would like to see in this pivot is the installation of strong and lasting levers of accountability. The helicopter drop or its equivalent will help. But without permanent measures that excise the necrotic elements before they wreak havoc, the problem quickly returns. We cannot waste this opportunity for stronger institutions of enforcement.

Digong faces “The Punisher’s Dilemma”: subjecting the Jee murder enforcers to “due process Philippine-style” is tantamount to exoneration — these rogues have and will again beat the system; they will deflate “Digong the Punisher” into “Digong the Abeter”; reassigning the scoundrels to the afterlife (a helicopter drop) confirms Digong “The Punisher” in the public’s mind but will subject him to the withering jeremiads from Amnesty International and the human rights advocates. It is not easy to be Digong nowadays.