JUST when we thought police credibility could go no lower, we learned this week from a drug lord in Eastern Visayas that he paid out more than P300,000 weekly in bribes to at least 20 top police officials in exchange for protection.
Testifying during the hearing of the Senate committee on public order and illegal drugs, Kerwin Espinosa, the son of slain Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa, said he gave the chief of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Region 8 P3 million in exchange for being told where police checkpoints would be, so that his drug shipments could get through unmolested. In one case, Espinosa said, the official even had a checkpoint moved so that the drug lord’s people could slip by.
“In other words, he was the protector of our people,” Espinosa told the senators at the hearing.
In another incident, Espinosa said, a police general demanded millions of pesos through a middleman to provide protection for his drug operations. Espinosa said he issued checks for a total of at least P6 million, and amounts that each police official received, and had the bank statements to prove these deposits.
Remarkably, one police official had already been ordered dismissed by the Ombudsman for grave misconduct and dishonesty over a separate case, involving the questionable procurement of P4.5 million worth of rubber boats. The Court of Appeals, however, overturned the Ombudsman’s ruling, and had this official reinstated.
Now we learn that he and 18 other officials who were on Espinosa’s monthly payroll.
These revelations brought tears to Philippine National Police chief Dir. Gen. Ronald dela Rosa, who expressed bitter disappointment over the rampant corruption in the police force.
Many of the officials that Espinosa identified as being on the take were, at the same hearing, professing their innocence. None of them, however, could deny that Espinosa was able to run his thriving drug operation without police protection.
In fact, the police chief of Albuera town observed, there would be no illegal drug problem if policemen were not involved.
At the hearing, Dela Rosa—who was driven to tears—told the senators that it was difficult for him to see the public losing trust in the PNP.
Yet, this is exactly what is happening.
Amid the increasingly bloody war on drugs in which more than 3,000 suspects have been killed, the public no longer sees policemen as their protectors, but as killers who can falsely accuse them of being pushers, kill them with impunity, then plant the evidence afterward—all with the blessings of the political leadership.
When a police raiding team of about 20 heavily-armed officers kill two inmates in their jail cell at 4 a.m., purportedly to serve a search warrant, we find it difficult to swallow their story that this was a shootout.
It is telling that people who watched the live broadcast of the Senate hearings Wednesday were just as ready to believe a self-confessed drug lord as they were the group of police officials who were at the same session to deny his testimony.
Dela Rosa has vowed to cleanse his organization—and we wish him success. On the other hand, he ought to know that something needs to be done to arrest the loss of trust and credibility that the people have for the organization he leads.