Gaming the Generals: Philippine Daily Inquirer

Filipinos allegedly involved in illegal drugs, participate in a Zumba dance class during a detoxification program.
Filipinos allegedly involved in illegal drugs, participate in a Zumba dance class during a detoxification program.PHOTO: EPA

Good on President Duterte for taking the campaign against illegal drugs right to the highest ranks of the Philippine National Police. 

If only he hadn’t taken shortcuts in doing so. 

If history—our own, still-recent history—teaches us anything, it is that, in the long run, shortcuts work against our own best interests.

Even during the campaign period, candidate Duterte had already suggested that some police generals were involved in big-time illegal drugs trade. 

During the transition, President-elect Duterte called on three police generals to resign; he did not name them, but during his thanksgiving rally in Davao City on June 4, he issued a clear warning.

“Corruption must stop. I would have to ask about three generals diyan sa Crame [there in Camp Crame, the PNP headquarters] to resign. Do not wait for me to name you in public because I will only humiliate you.” 

Reporters working the police beat had an inkling about who the three were, but could not get confirmation.

And then last Tuesday, July 5, the President, at a ceremony marking the anniversary of the Philippine Air Force, dropped a bomb. 

“I am compelled by my sense of duty to tell you [the names of] the police who contributed to deterioration of law and order in this country.” 

He then proceeded to name three generals in active police service and two recently retired generals.

He tagged Marcelo Garbo, former deputy director general of the PNP, and Vicente Loot, now a mayor of a town in Cebu province. 

He also named active-duty generals Bernardo Diaz of Police Regional Office 6, former National Capital Region Police Office chief Joel Pagdilao, and  former Quezon City Police District chief Edgardo Tinio.

These officers are among the highest ranking policemen in the country, holding prime positions. 

That the President himself accused them, and the two who have already retired, of “protecting drug syndicates” is not only unprecedented; it is shocking.

Perhaps the shock will do wonders for the system; if some of the highest ranking police officials are involved in illegal drugs, we certainly join the public in supporting the Duterte administration’s fight to flush them out, and then to hold them to account. 

But part of the shock is that, despite the lapse of time since Mr. Duterte raised the specter of high police involvement in the drugs trade in February, in spite of the full month that separated his thanksgiving rally from the PAF anniversary, he did not offer any evidence to support his accusation.

We do not necessarily mean evidence that would stand legal scrutiny beyond the customary measure of reasonable doubt; we only mean evidence to satisfy the inevitable public curiosity.

But aside from the admittedly powerful passage about the sense of betrayal we feel when we discover that the police we expect to protect us are themselves involved in crime—“It hurts to hear because you spent money on them, you sent them to school, you paid for even socks and shoes, then they commit [these crimes], by any language, it is treason”—the President did not explain why he thought these men had in fact committed treason.

Shouldn’t investigation precede accusation, especially when the accuser is the official designated as the Constitution’s chief executive? 

The President could have offered one instance when one of the police generals was discovered in the act of protecting drug syndicates, or described one situation where a police general was compromised.

Instead, he gave a blanket accusation, and then called on the police generals named to prove their innocence.

“I would like to talk to them and certainly, I would expect the [National Police Commission] to do their thing; imbestigahan ninyo ito at ’wag ninyo akong bigyan ng zarzuela (investigate this and don’t play pretend).”

This turns the justice process upside down. The Constitution guarantees each citizen, police generals included, the right to be presumed innocent. 

What would it have cost the President to wait until the administration had gathered the necessary evidence? 

We wish to stress the point: 

The public would fully support the new administration’s crackdown on the illegal drugs trade if it did not violate the law in the process. 

If police generals are involved, then, yes, “it is going to be a dirty fight, it’s going to be a bloody fight,” as the President said. Would that he had both law and the public on his side.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 21 newspapers.