Corruption and cowardice can really be unflattering if ascribed to policemen who ought to be expected to abide by their sworn duty to serve and protect.
In just a single day last week, the public image of the Philippine National Police took a severe beating as primetime TV news focused on police officers linked to illegal drugs, and on two cops scampering to hide upon hearing gunshots without bothering to go after the gunman.
It would be grossly unfair and inaccurate for some people to say, after being bombarded by so much negativity about cops in the news, that the average police officer is now corrupt or a coward. Especially so if our top cop assures us that of the total number of policemen, now about 160,000, just a mere one percent may be considered bad eggs.
But while it may be true that undesirable policemen constitute a very small percentage of the entire police force, the stark reality is that this very small minority—1,600 or one percent of total PNP membership—unfortunately can inflict very serious damage to the overall image of the PNP. They may be just a few, yet they have the power to shape perceptions of the general public, or even subvert our criminal justice system.
Last Wednesday was indeed a bad day for the image of the PNP. So bad that a sobbing Philippine National Police Chief Director General Ronaldo “Bato” Dela Rosa appeared so frustrated at the Senate hearing as Kerwin Espinosa, reputed to be the biggest drug lord of Eastern Visayas, tagged some of the top cop’s trusted officers as involved in drug-related activities themselves.
“Gustong-gusto kong mareform ang PNP, ako’y hirap na hirap na,” Dela Rosa said as he fought back tears on live TV. “I can’t blame the public if they are losing trust and confidence in the police because I myself, sabi ko nga, hindi mo na minsan alam kung sino ang pagkakatiwalaan.”
After an emotional Dela Rosa and Espinosa’s damning testimony made it to primetime news that night, what followed was more damning news: two policemen running to hide instead of protecting a shooting victim and apprehending or neutralizing the killer.
CCTV footage showed the two cops seated inside a Pasig drugstore when they heard a gunshot as a man ran inside and fell wounded. Instead of helping the man who died later, the cops scampered, with one stepping on the victim, to hide at the other end of the store.
The wounded man tried to squeeze himself to where the policemen were hiding. The gunman entered the store but retreated upon seeing the cops who were just sitting motionless on the floor next to the counter.
PNP spokesperson Senior Supt. Dionardo Carlos said the two will have to undergo commando training with the elite Special Action Force. “We want that our policemen be ready to fight, courageous and not cowards—true policemen who go to fight and not run away from a fight. That is the culture we want to develop in the PNP,” Carlos said. “Sa panahon ngayon, ang ating mga pulis ay dapat na maging sensitibo sa nangyayari sa kanilang paligid at laging unahin ang pagresponde sa mga nangangailangan.”
With all the negative news about policemen, Dela Rosa has to act decisively to protect the integrity and reputation of the vast majority of good policemen who strive to be morally upright and who really put their lives on the line to fulfill their sworn duties.
Contrary to what Sen. Ping Lacson said about giving “so much leeway pero 'pag masyadong blatant na, with impunity, the chief PNP should do something,” stricter measures are needed to be implemented consistently.
Dela Rosa could be guided by the “Broken Windows Theory” in criminology that has this premise: Minor infractions, if left unnoticed, will eventually escalate into bigger, more serious crimes. Such theory on urban disorder says that vandals who see an abandoned building with a few broken windows will break more and destroy everything until the entire building is in shambles.
But whatever Dela Rosa decides to do to restore the people’s trust and confidence in the PNP must be done with consistency and grim determination. He could be inspired by what the great writer Jacob Riis said: “When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it—but all that had gone before.”