“The police are the public, and the public are the police.”
Robert Peel, British parliamentarian
THE poster image of Philippine law enforcement is the unfortunate AP wirephoto of General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, with hands clasped around both ears and his shaved head, declaring, “I could melt in shame.”
In my vague recollection, someone said somewhere, “Crisis stimulates progress.” It’s not proven, but it sounds true.
After President Duterte’s declaration (in reaction to the murder by the police of South Korean Jee Ick-joo) that the police are “corrupt to the core,” and his pledge to purge both the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), I am moved to wonder: What will happen now to law enforcement in the country? Who will frown at the criminals?
After DU30 subsequently announced that he would transfer the war on illegal drugs to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and then consider the reconstitution of the Philippine Constabulary under the AFP, I was puzzled even more. Can the country function with an interregnum, where there will be some absence of control or supervision of policing?
Return to basics in policing
The humbling lesson we have to eat is that we are forced by circumstances to return to basics in meeting the challenge of crime and law enforcement in the country.
I quoted Sir Robert Peel for a start, because nobody is more seminal in the history of policing than the distinguished British public servant. In 1822, England’s prime minister, in the face of an increase in crime and rioting, appointed Peel to establish a police force to combat the problem.
Peel drafted a bill for parliament, which then passed the Metropolitan Act of 1829. The general instructions of the new force stressed its preventive nature, saying that “the principal object to be attained is ‘the prevention of crime.’ The security of person and property will thus be better effected, than by the detection and punishment of the offender after he has succeeded in committing the crime.
Peel laid down basic principles of policing, which are considered relevant to the police community in contemporary times. He cited 12 principles:
1. The police must be stable, efficient, and organized along military lines.
2. The police must be under governmental control.
3. The absence of crime will best prove the efficiency of the police.
4. The distribution of crime news is absolutely essential.
5. The deployment of police strength by time and area is essential.
6. No quality is more indispensable to a policeman than perfect command of temper; a quiet determined manner has more effect than violent action.
7. Good appearance commands respect.
8. The securing and training of proper persons is at the root of efficiency.
9. Public security demands that every police officer be given a number.
10. Police headquarters should be centrally located and easily accessible to the people.
11. Policemen should be hired on a probationary basis.
12. Police records are necessary to the correct distribution of police strength.
Policing in America brought Peel’s policing principles and methods to modern times, and tried to improve on them, especially with the use of new technologies.
In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson created the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice to find solutions to America’s internal crime problems, including the root causes of crime, the workings of the justice system, and the hostile, antagonistic relations between the police and civilians.
Johnson’s crime commission brought policing full circle by restating many of the principles laid down by Robert Peel, in saying that the police should be close to the public, that poor quality of policing contributed to social disorder, and that the police should focus on community relations.
More recently, the US has introduced and popularized the concept of community- oriented policing and problem-solving (COPPS). One program of COPPS is the well-known drug abuse resistance and education (DARE) program.
New policies to stem decline
President Duterte was not off-tangent in calling on the national police to prosecute the war on illegal drugs, but he over-reached by investing the PNP with new powers, expanding its jurisdiction, and exaggerating expectations. He declared upon his accession on June 30, 2016, that he would wipe out the drug menace in six months.
It’s now seven months since June 30. The drug war has turned into a nightmare for the administration. Its once-rabid public support is dissipating. Saying that the drug war will persist up to his exit in 2022 will not win new converts.
DU30 appears to be groping for any line to stanch decline. Hence, his readiness to move drug-fighting to the military, and reconstitute the Philippine Constabulary.
The proposed new measures could prove troubling.
Law enforcement is not an easy mix with the military mission. Soldiers could dissent.
The Integrated National Police (INP) and the Philippine Constabulary (PC) were merged in 1991 to form the present Philippine National Police (PNP) under President Corazon Aquino. It has not been a success in any way, as the national police has been dogged by charges of payoffs from illegal gambling and the illegal drug trade, and by ineffectiveness in law enforcement.
Philippine law enforcement is in need of a rethink. The links of its officer corps to the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) have not made it more effective or professional. It has become more ambitious, as police generals now routinely run for elective office after retirement at the age of 56. Politics has not made police officers more public-spirited, just more corrupt.
Scholars and policymakers interested in police reform should look at an enlightening book on policing, Policing America, Methods, Issues, Challenges, by Kenneth Peak (Pearson Education, New Jersey, 2006). The chapter on comparative policing (pages 386 to 418), which surveys policing in five different countries is especially instructive.
Philippine policing needs instruction, plenty of instruction. Surely, no one will claim that killing over 7,000 people in the war on drugs is an achievement of the PNP.