THE report that four police officers in Makati City detained a couple and attempted to extort money from them represents another setback for the efforts of the Philippine National Police (PNP) to rehabilitate its image and reform its ranks.
The story is all too familiar and disappointing for the national leadership and the citizenry alike.
There was every reason for President Duterte, prior to his departure for Cambodia, to lapse anew into expletives and deliver another tirade against our law enforcement forces.
After several declarations and pronouncements by top police officials of an ongoing cleanup, there is reason to ask whether reform is succeeding and whether the public can really expect better. The latest incident bears the mark of backsliding.
Once again, the incident involved the abuse of police authority. Once again, the police was caught trying to extort money from helpless citizens.
As established by investigators, the four police officers specifically tried to extort money from a businessman and his girlfriend whom they had detained the previous day. They demanded P400,000 in return for their release. The would-be victims had to make a down payment.
This incident should not be filed as just another item or another case in the saga of law enforcement in the country. It should rather be held up as a searing reminder that for police reform to succeed, it should be a sustained and unremitting effort, and it should be wise enough to know that the biggest problem may not lie with the criminal-minded outside, but with our men in uniform within.
Government needs to see the challenge in its totality and address the issues one by one, and take the reform effort to every city and jurisdiction until the menace of police abuse and corruption is eradicated.
The PNP consists of 160,000 members, bigger than the entire Armed Forces of the nation. When it was picked by the President to serve as the main enforcer in the drugs crackdown, it was in recognition of its primary function to keep the peace and secure our citizens and communities from criminality and violence.
Today, after 10 months of the drug war, and multiple scandals and sensational cases, such as the killing of a mayor in detention and the kidnap-slaying of a Korean businessman, faith in the PNP is badly damaged and waning.
President Duterte spoke for the entire nation when he declared in dismay that the police force was “corrupt to the core.”
He also had wide public support and agreement when he decided to pull the PNP off the drug war and then vowed to “cleanse” the force.
Sadly, after a brief interval, when the force made a show of changing its ways, DU30 changed tack and decided to order the police to resume its anti-drug operations.
This Makati incident is a breakdown of police discipline and integrity after so many protestations and press releases.
The Palace has announced that the President plans to appoint the Armed Forces Chief of Staff, General Eduardo Año, as the new secretary of interior and local government, when the general retires from the service later this year.
This planned appointment will again raise expectations of change for the better, because the interior secretary will become an even bigger boss of our police forces, higher in the totem pole than Gen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa.
Change, we are convinced, cannot come soon enough. The need for a competent and dedicated police force is urgent and compelling.
Change will not happen unless Año and Dela Rosa implement a strategic plan for the total reform of the Philippine National Police.
Then, perhaps, the public will learn to trust the PNP again.