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Cops and robbers

Philippine National Police (PNP)

The Romans referred to them as fur and branded them with the letter F; in Medieval Greece they were known as kleptai and could be put to death; in Islam, hudud punishments prescribed by Shariah law allow their hands to be removed; in Caloocan City, Metro Manila and other parts of the Philippines they wear the insignia of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and in the past have often gone unpunished. In Tagalog they’re known as mga magnanakaw; in English they’re called thieves.

On Thursday, members of a Caloocan police community precinct were caught on CCTV raiding the home of an elderly woman and allegedly stealing money and other valuable items. This though is just the latest in a long litany of offences carried out by corrupt officers of the country’s police force – one of the laziest, most ill-disciplined and certainly most corrupt of any police force in the region; possibly only Myanmar could give it a run for its money. That’s the seedy, sordid reputation it’s earned for itself.

And while it also has some very fine and conscientious officers – honourable men and women who genuinely want to fight crime – sadly, all are now tarred with the same brush. The only honour dishonest and unscrupulous policemen understand is honour among thieves.

The PNP uniform doesn’t command respect, it’s become a symbol of ignominy and public scorn; it doesn’t inspire confidence, it engenders suspicion and distrust. The force’s motto, “To serve and to protect”, rings like hollow words, mocking any notion of safeguarding the public’s welfare. The words on the PNP seal – “Service, Honor, Justice” – ridicule all meaning of them. Many Filipinos will tell you, if you have a problem, unless you want to make it worse, don’t call the police.

Ironically, in August the Caloocan force was recognised as the ‘Best City Police Station’ in the Philippines. If that’s the case we dread to think what goes on at the worst. It’s to be hoped that accolade is now revoked – in fact, the very idea of a ‘Best Police Station’ should be reconsidered. Perhaps the award should be for ‘The Least Corrupt City Police Station’ in the country.

The problem with corrupt cops in the Philippines is that they’ve actually become part of the fabric of law enforcement; incidents of theft, extortion and bribe-taking by police officers – of virtually all ranks – are commonplace; at least, all-too-frequent. To give some idea, of the 159 names on President Rodrigo Duterte’s list of public officials which he cited for drug-related crimes, 95 were either active or retired members of the PNP.

Institutionalised and systemic, corrupt cops seem to be tolerated within the force; as if there’s some acceptable level. It’s so entrenched in fact, that it’s hard to see how these stables can be cleaned out if those with the brooms and the hoses are themselves compromised by association. It also begs another question – if the police are incapable of policing themselves, how can they police the rest of the country?

The PNP’s Internal Affairs Service (IAS) which came into being when former president Fidel V. Ramos signed into law the PNP Reform and Reorganization Act in 1998, has done little to address the problems of police-crime. And given the incestuous nature of the problem within the force it’s difficult to see how the police here can regulate themselves – more particularly, how the IAS can show and convince the public that it has the capability and, as importantly, the will to do so.

Our question to you in this weekend’s Your Forum, then, is this: Should the PNP be thoroughly purged from top to bottom – if need be, by an independent outside force? We’ll put that another way: Is it possible for the PNP to cleanse itself?

As far as criminals go, bent cops are among the very worst of the worst. They’re right up there with paedophile priests and doctors who rape their patients. What all these have in common is that they use their positions of authority and the public trust to commit their crimes. Far from protecting society and looking after its welfare, however, they’re a scourge on it. They also share something else – a sickening arrogance of what they believe their status in society should be.

In the children’s make-believe game, ‘cops and robbers’, players take the role of one or the other – you’re either a cop or you’re a robber. In the real-life version practiced by members of the Philippine National Police, apparently, both roles can be played simultaneously.

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