There was exasperation, even anger in his voice as he lamented what he called the depiction by the media of criminals as heroes and policemen as criminals.
Director General Alan Purisima of the Philippine National Police (PNP) was missing the point.
If we may inform the country’s top cop, the media are a most cynical lot. Contrary to his worst fears, the country’s purveyors of news are capable of discerning false from accurate information. And it is inconceivable that they would allow themselves to be used by anybody, drug lords included, to destroy the national police organization.
Purisima made the observation after criticism rained down on the police force following the killing of Ozamiz gang leader Ricky Cadavero and his accomplice, Wilfredo Panogalinga Jr., by their police escorts.
It is generally believed that the prisoners were summarily executed to silence them.
Purisima told his interviewers that the PNP has more good policemen and women than bad ones. They must be protected from unfair accusations, or the people, he warned, would be left fending for themselves, with the police refusing to do their duties and responsibilities.
Sure, the majority are commendable men and women. Unfortunately some of their top officers have led them astray.
Take the case of Supt. Hansel Marantan. He led a group of 25 policemen and soldiers in the ambush—at least that’s what the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) says—of an alleged gambling lord and 12 other men in Atimonan, Quezon.
The investigation has concluded that Marantan was himself a protector of another gambling lord, and the massacre was the culmination of a fight for turf.
It is said that most of the policemen and soldiers who, along with Marantan, are now facing murder charges were led to believe they would participate in a legitimate operation. It would take a while for the court to determine what really happened, punish the guilty and exonerate the innocent. In the meantime, they face an uncertain future.
Purisima may be right in his assessment that the public has already prejudged the policemen, but he is wrong to think the sympathy of the public now lies with criminals.
The people have no greater wish than the complete extermination of criminals, especially the likes of Cadavero and Panogalinga. After all they risk life and limb to these vermin everyday, not only when they go out in the streets but even when they stay in their own homes.
If people are incensed it is because the killing has made it difficult to identify the politicians and high-ranking policemen in the region who protected Cadavero and Panogalinga and their cohorts and allowed them to roam around and rob people with impunity.
Consider the circumstances. The robbers were in handcuffs when shot. The police escorts said a gunman on a motorcycle strafed their van with bullets, and at that precise moment the robbers put their handcuffs around their necks and tried to choke them, the way they do it in the movies.
The NBI has already dismissed that explanation. Suffice it to say that the police, instead of obeying orders to bring the robbers back to the National Bilibid Prison in Muntinglupa, Rizal, drove them all the way to Dasmarinas, Cavite, “for an inquest.”
Mr. Purisima assured the public the PNP does not tolerate wrongdoing within its ranks, but the record says otherwise.
There are policemen and women whose services have been terminated, but they are for the most part involved only in petty crimes. No officer in big-time criminal activities—protection of Chinese drug lords for instance—have been drummed out of the service.
A few weeks ago Agent Jonathan Morales of the Philippine Drugs Enforcement Agency accused his superiors of providing protection to a big Chinese drug syndicate. He said the agency was being selective in identifying drug lords for surveillance and arrest.
In other words the very agency given the mandate to rid the country of this blight is responsible for its spread, and yet the officers running it remains deeply ensconced in it.
At one point, Purisima noted that the two incidents occurred in Southern Tagalog. He wondered whether there was need to retrain PNP members assigned to the region to wean them away from the culture of violence.
We have news for the guy. The Mafia-like culture is not confined to the Southern Tagalog PNP. It pervades the whole national police organization, and it does so for as long as anybody cares to remember.