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Why writing about police incompetence helps

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A few months ago, I wrote an article about the Bumbling, Fumbling, Corrupt and Inept nature of Philippine policemen. It was written and published at the height of the Luneta-Quirino Grandstand Hostage Crisis which left 8 Hong Kong tourists dead and a dozen more emotionally scarred.

I was careful not to say or imply that all, or 100%, of Philippine policemen fall into the corrupted category. But given the many cases and incidents of police brutality, abuse, torture, corruption and incompetence, it can be said that many policemen are professionally inept.

It does not matter whether such policemen are new recruits, older generals, based in the provinces or patrolling in Metropolitan Manila. Wherever policemen are, there is a certain sense of wariness that follows many of them. There is a level of distrust and suspicion.

*Doesn’t Help?

Out of nowhere, someone I know (of) but don’t have much personal connection to commented that the article above “doesn’t help”. At the height of the Hostage Crisis, an article condemning the current state of Philippine policemen doesn’t help. Really? Jeez, that was one totally irresponsible comment from someone whose outlook is to perhaps downplay all things bad about the country and its police force. Seriously, an article critical of policemen “doesn’t help”?

Does not help in what, I was forced to wonder. Doesn’t help in uplifting the image of the police force? Why help uplift its image when there has been so much evidence of policemen doing the wrong things? One example is the conviction (released November 2010) of ex-Parañaque policeman Gerardo Biong for tampering (read: burning) with the Vizconde Massacre evidence.

Doesn’t help in protecting the image of the Philippines before the peoples of Hong Kong, mainland China and the rest of the world? All Filipinos should do their respective share in promoting a better country but no one can or should deny the incompetent nature of the police.

Are we too conscious, if not fearful, of a Hong Kong-China reprisal that we would rather not talk or write about something which is socially relevant and is at the epicenter of current news?

*It Does Help

Without batting an eyelash, we should write and talk about these important national matters – be it around the dinner table of a metropolitan Filipino family, in front of the sari-sari stores in the villages, during Christmas Eve dinner by global Filipino families stationed outside the country, at the backrooms of leisure transnational vessels manned by Filipino sailors, cooks and waiters, and through chatting, YM, Facebooking, discussion boards and other social network facilities.

We ought to discuss what ills the country whether we are residing within its bounds or living elsewhere. Prompt, frank and spontaneous discussions are what drive new ideas, curiosities and philosophies. Shunning these discussions is unpatriotic, non-participative and being aloof.

Who would not want a better police force? Of course everyone dreams of competent, straight and prepared policemen who all, or at least a great majority, fulfill their roles as protectors of the people and implementers of the law. It would be great to say–when it happens–that the Philippines has the finest police force in Asia. Yet the truth is that it has one of the region’s worst. This has been proven by the failure and bumbling acts of Manila policemen in the supposed rescue attempt of the Hong Kong hostages and in many, many other circumstances.

Days after the New Year, I was watching The Filipino Channel (TFC) and was greeted by the news delivered by former Vice President and now news anchor Noli de Castro. They were sad news that centered on the corrupt and unethical state of policemen.

Though the content of the news was difficult to take, I stood in front of the television widescreen to hear every bit of it. These current news and other past reports disprove the notion that writing and discussing about police incompetence “doesn’t help”. Writing and reporting about it “Does Help”.

The TFC news on Philippine policemen dealt with three significant incidents. One, the alleged kidnap-salvage attempt of Quezon City policemen on three foreign nationals, two of whom ended up dead. Two, the alleged rape committed by a Manila policeman on a female suspect inside the office (of all places) of the MPD Integrity Task Force. Three, the alleged drunken shooting spree by a Bulacan policeman. All accusations are preceded by “alleged”.

These are very sad and humiliating news, indeed.

*Kidnap-salvage by 11 Quezon City cops

On December 20, 2010, Tagalog-speaking Indian Munjinder James Khumar and two of his friends were attempted to be kidnapped and salvaged by Quezon City policemen in FB Harrison in Pasay City. News reports indicate that the policemen were used as hitmen by a group of Indians who wanted to oust Khumar from the leadership of an influential group.

The 11 cops were part of the Anti-Drugs Operations Unit of the Quezon City police.

Khumar was injured but was able to escape. Meanwhile, his two friends, Andy Ngie and Ferdinand Ret, were not as lucky. Ferdinand Ret was found dead in Abucay, Bataan. He had two bullet wounds in the temple, his head was completely wrapped with packaging tape and his hands and feet were bound. Andy Ngie was found dead in Labrador, Pangasinan in the same predicament: tied up, shot in the head and with packaging tape over his head.

Khumar has accused 11 Quezon City cops of the kidnap-salvage. He said he saw them commit the crimes and has other witnesses who will testify. Six of the policemen appeared before media and offered their respective alibis. The implication of Khumar’s accusation, if true, would be that the cops acted as the goons of a group which probably compensated them for their services. More than just the ordinary armed escort, they were hired as assassins and executioners.

Again, assuming Khumar’s accusation is believable, the savage acts by these Quezon City policemen are thuggish, murderous and clearly unethical. How on earth can legitimate policemen allow themselves to serve as kidnappers-for-hire and murderers-for hire? Are they bereft of any conscience? Or was the money really that good?

*Rape by a Manila Cop inside the Integrity Task Force office

Talk about integrity. On December 31, 2010, a woman and her husband were in Carriedo, Manila at around 5:30 am when a certain police officer named Antonio Bautista, Jr. arrested them for vagrancy. Bautista brought the couple to the Manila Police District headquarters on U.N. Avenue for processing and ordered the woman to enter the MPD Integrity Task Force office. There, the rape occurred as alleged by the woman.

The Integrity Task Force office is the unit which investigates police misdemeanors. Either policeman Bautista does not know how to read, knows how to read but didn’t care, or fails to understand what “integrity” is. Of all places, Bautista allegedly committed the rape on top of a desk inside an office that was supposed to prevent such crimes and other misdemeanors from ever occurring. They must remove “integrity” from the door sign.

There is absolutely no integrity in policeman Bautista. Neither is there any integrity in that district for having a policeman like him who excessively mocked such “integrity” office, the badge, the police force and the oath to protect and serve. Bautista not only allegedly committed a dastardly act on a suspect but he even took her money. He has since been in hiding.

*Drunken shooting spree by a Bulacan cop

This is the very common drunken-cop-who-opened-fire situation. Police Officer 1 Armand Canilang, who was assigned to the San Jose Del Monte City police station in Bulacan, got drunk with his two brothers. He then engaged in a staring confrontation (titigan)–much like how many frat rumbles start off–with a group of men.

Policeman Canilang, drunk, threatened to kill the group of men while walking home. The men, instead of physically retaliating relative to the grave threat, immediately filed a complaint at the nearby barangay outpost. As barangay officials were approaching Canilang and his two brothers, he opened fire at them. He shot dead one of the men he threatened. He also injured another civilian and a barangay watchman. Canilang was arrested and disarmed.

This and the two other police abuses above are evidence of impunity. Because they can. Just like the case of the ballistic Pasig policeman who was abusive to and brandished a “baby Armalite” on a group of Ortigas Center security guards who stopped him for a parking violation. The backup he called? A SWAT team. And he also had the security guards arrested. Because he can.

The Philippines has been known, arguably, as the “Sick Man of Asia”. Should the Philippine police be known as the “Sick Police of Asia”? Not if the police top brass, the police rank-and-file and the country’s national leaders do something radical about it.

*Responsible media

How I wish TFC didn’t have to report on these news items, that ABS-CBN News didn’t have to feature them, and that I didn’t have to write an opinion about these provocative police abuses.

But we all had to. These are very disturbing allegations that need to be reported on, researched, commented on and discussed. These incidents need to be presented to the public.

One of the major roles of media is to serve as society’s vanguard. If media (ABS-CBN and other news organizations) did not report or write about these police abuses, there will be lesser checks and balances. The top brass in the Philippine National Police may just dismiss these incidents as unfortunate, conduct a fleeting investigation and slap the alleged perpetrators with a one-week suspension. The following week, the perpetrators are back at their trade.

With media hounding government and police officials, they have to appropriately respond to the stream of tough questions and follow-ups. Responsible media reminds officials of the utmost necessity to do their jobs right.

Responsible media performs its function by exposing corrupt elements, seeking justice and indirectly aiding the law. That’s why rogue policemen and other criminals hide their faces in the jail cells when media crew flips on the lights and begins to record.

Police top brass are thus compelled to form task forces and regularly meet with ground commanders to discuss these problems, identify solutions and implement much needed changes. They then “report” these developments to the media by directly responding to stiff questions by media personalities. By relaying these matters to the media, the police are relaying them to the public.

Responsible media then follows them up for further developments, snags in implementation and possible new approaches. Certainly, police officials and designated spokespersons may be defensive in their responses. This is especially true in the face of aggressive, hostile questioning by well-known news anchors. Responsible media must be able to cleverly sidestep such defensive maneuvers in order to get to the truth without sounding brash or too offensive.

Responsible media also seeks to know whether the aftermath of the Luneta-Quirino Grandstand Hostage Crisis, whereby particular top police officials were spared blame and prosecution, played a role in the accused cops’ thinking that they can get away with it as well.

*No utopia

There is no perfect society. There is no utopia. Government officials, police officers, ordinary folks and even media personalities commit mistakes. Some get entangled in abuses or are involved in criminal acts. This is one reality people have long faced and have long accepted.

Responsible media is there to cover and write about these events. News anchors and reporters are there to instantaneously deliver and interpret the news. Radio and TV commentators as well as opinion writers are there to analyze such events and render substantive opinions.

All in the name of a working check and balance system. So it helps.

(The author is a lawyer & writer based in Washington, DC, and educated by Georgetown Law (cand.), the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton (Cert.Bus.), Kyushu University, and UP.)

By Carlo Osi




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