Rogue cops undermine Duterte's anti-crime campaign

The Philippine police force is plagued by rogue cops who undermine President Rodrigo Duterte's anti-crime drive, a Senate investigation into the murder of a South Korean businessman showed yesterday.

Police chief Ronald de la Rosa acknowledged that there are at least 12 other cases similar to the kidnapping and slaying of Mr Jee Ick Joo, 53.

Investigators said last October that police officer Ricky Santa Isabel led a team which detained Mr Jee under the guise of a drug raid.

Santa Isabel later strangled Mr Jee and then asked Mr Jee's wife for a ransom of five million pesos (S$142,600). She paid up, thinking he was still alive.

Mr de la Rosa said Santa Isabel had also been involved in another kidnapping in 2007. Santa Isabel, who earned just 8,000 pesos a month, was found to have assets worth over 17 million pesos.

Mr Duterte apologised for Mr Jee's murder at a gathering to inaugurate a new power plant outside Manila.

Critics fear Mr Duterte's promise to shield those enforcing his bloody crackdown on drugs is being used by corrupt officers as cover for their own rackets.

With executives from a South Korean firm in his audience, he said: "I apologise for the death of your compatriot. We are very sorry it happened. But I can assure you those responsible are known to us already, and they will go to prison, and I will see to it that they are sentenced to the maximum."

Referring to the perpetrators, he said: "You will suffer. Maybe I can send your heads to South Korea."

Critics fear Mr Duterte's promise to shield those enforcing his bloody crackdown on drugs is being used by corrupt officers as cover for their own rackets.

But he defended his hard line on drugs, insisting that it has reached a "pandemic" scale.

At the Senate hearing, Mr Ka Kuen Chua, chairman of the Movement for the Restoration of Peace and Order, said there is now an "absurd reality" where some policemen are also criminals covering up for one another.

Senator Rissa Hontiveros urged the police to clean up their ranks before pursuing Mr Duterte's anti-drug campaign "in so aggressive a manner".

More than 6,000 people have been killed, half of them by police, since Mr Duterte took office last June. Senator Grace Poe said that with Mr Duterte cheering on lawmen involved in these deaths, many policemen have become so "cocky" that they are profiting from crimes with little fear of being prosecuted.

Mr de la Rosa said there is no need to stop Mr Duterte's anti-crime drive, as rogue cops constitute a tiny fraction of the 160,000-strong police force.

He assured the senators that he was pursuing an "internal cleansing one level up" from Mr Duterte's war on crime, beefing up counter-intelligence units to keep tabs on errant lawmen.

Families of alleged drug suspects killed in Mr Duterte's crackdown, meanwhile, petitioned the Supreme Court yesterday to force the police to disclose evidence linking the suspects to narcotics, in the first legal challenge to Mr Duterte's war on drugs.

Lawyers representing the families of four men killed in a rundown Manila neighbourhood last August, as well as one survivor, urged the court to allow scrutiny of police operations because the official accounts were "sheer incongruity" and read like movie plots "from bygone days of Filipino cinema".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2017, with the headline 'Rogue cops undermine Duterte's anti-crime campaign'. Print Edition | Subscribe