“We will have to wait and see whether the new PNP leadership can walk the talk and deliver results in the war on crime and thus effectively uphold law and order throughout the country”
The previous administration’s marching order to the 150,000-member Philippine National Police was to bear down hard – very hard – on the problem of illegal drugs in the country and solve it within three to six months from the start of its term of office on June 30, 2016.
By the time the Duterte administration ended at noon of June 30 this year, some 6,700, mostly small-time drug traffickers and users, had ended up dead, according to official police statistics, with only a few high-value targets neutralized (killed) or arrested.
Human rights groups here and abroad, however, paint a very different picture of the number of those killed in Duterte’s war on drugs.
They claim that between 20,000 and 30,000 have actually been slaughtered by vigilante groups believed to be operating under the direct supervision of the police or by off-duty cops themselves.
Although the numbers cannot be independently verified – and authorities dismiss the claimed big number of fatalities as a total figment of the imagination by anti-government groups – the International Criminal Court has been sufficiently alarmed as to what has really taken place in the country amid fears that the Duterte administration may have committed crimes against humanity and now wants to conduct a thorough investigation.
The brutal war on drugs has put the PNP under a microscope, with the public, although still relying on the institution as the main agency of government responsible for maintaining law and order, increasingly wary of its capability to do so precisely because of the involvement of some of its officers and rank-and-file in unlawful activities.
We are convinced that the majority of the men and women in the PNP are honest and doing their job.
But even if only one percent of the 150,000 or so members of the police force are involved in wrongdoing (such as violation of internal rules, abuse of authority) and outright criminal activities (extortion, kidnapping, murder, etc.), that is still one too many in an institution where iron discipline and total adherence to the rule of law must be observed.
To serve and protect the citizenry from criminals and lawlessness is what the PNP is supposed to do.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s recent reminder to the police that the use of force in their operations must be reasonable, justifiable and carried out only when necessary is therefore timely and appropriate.
Calling the men and women in uniform as “vanguards of peace” during the 121st Police Service Anniversary celebration at Camp Crame, the Chief Executive stressed that PNP’s application of its mandate must be “firmly grounded on moral principles, integrity, accountability and honesty” to ensure continued public support.
The exercise of its authority must be fair and impartial, President Marcos said.
“It must be devoid of favoritism and discrimination, regardless of race, gender, social economic status, political affiliation, religious belief and the like. It is only then that you can effectively sustain with great respect and wide support the authority that you possess as uniformed servicemen of the Republic.”
In response to this, new PNP Chief, Police General Rodolfo Azurin Jr., has set new policies for the institution that indicate a welcome change in its war on drugs and on crime as a whole.
While the PNP would continue to clamp down on drugs, he said it would also study the root of the problem. “I think that is the very basic approach we could take…What is needed is [that] while we do our job, we also try to preserve human life because killing is not the solution.”
Under the new administration, Azurin said he would make an accounting of the drug problem and involve the community in dealing with it.
The police will ask barangay leaders on the actual drug situation in their areas so that “we will find out what intervention we have to do.”
Another innovation is that the PNP also plans to enlist the help of the Church and other spiritual leaders to serve as counselors and life coaches to reform the police. “We need to know which police officers are prone to misconduct. We should immediately address even the smallest problems with our personnel by getting feedback from our communities.”
All this is welcome news from Camp Crame, which has borne the brunt of public criticism over perceived police abuses and the culture of impunity that attended the Duterte administration’s war on drugs.
In the last days of the previous dispensation, the PNP reported that total crime incidents in the country from 2016 to 2021 dropped 49.6 percent from the recorded statistics in the 2010-2015 period.
It also said there was a marked 67.76 percent decline in Index Crime cases recorded over the same 65-month period from July 2016 through September 2021.
We do not know if the drop in crime incidence in the past six years can be attributed to the war on drugs and the arrest of a big number of drug suspects.
But we will have to wait and see whether the new PNP leadership can walk the talk, so to speak, and deliver results in the war on crime and thus effectively uphold law and order throughout the country.