Duterte suspends his war on drugs: what is going on in the Philippine National Police?

Photo: www.gov.ph

As statistics in the Philippines show crime decreasing year-on-year, further analysis paints a murkier picture of police corruption and the effect of Duterte’s war on drugs. Time to clean up says the President.

By Victoria Wah, edited by John Pennington

President Duterte says the war on drugs is over until the police force is cleaned up. At first glance, his officers would appear to be making progress in combatting crime – but a darker story lies beneath.

According to a 2015 annual report released by the Philippine National Police (PNP), total crime volume decreased from 714,632 in 2014 to 675,813 in 2015. At the same time, the overall volume of index crimes, which are crimes against people and property, has decreased considerably from around 260,000 in 2014 to 201,010 in 2015 – a drop of 22.69%.

Certain index crimes have also seen big declines. Homicide cases fell from 3,349 cases to 2,835 (down 15%), and physical injury numbers decreased from 65,763 cases to 49,845 (down 24%). At the same time, figures for total crime clearance efficiency and total crime solution efficiency have increased by around 8% from 2014 to 2015, purportedly due to the police’s increased adeptness.

Source: PNP Annual Report 2015

Behind this success could be the overall trend for the last five years where the government is putting more effort into police training and resources. Budget expenditure on the PNP has increased from 92.5 billion pesos (US$1.86 billion) in 2016 to 115.07 billion pesos (US$2.31 billion) in 2017 and it seems the government’s spending on more training has led to an improvement in crime fighting; an overall rise of 22.8% crimes solved from 2013 to 2015.

Crime rates are certain to increase in the near future

However, despite the fall in the number of offences reported in recent years, this year’s crime rate is set to soar thanks to the extrajudicial killings playing out on bloodstained streets across the country. It is also worth noting that the very reporting of crime rates has changed in the latest PNP publication, showing not all crime, but those recorded in police blotters which have historically been found unreliable.

The issue plaguing justice services is the unaddressed corruption in the police force that adds to the national crime rate, including a spate of incidents where police inflicted grievous bodily harm on individuals. In 2015, the US State Department’s human rights report stated that extrajudicial killing and enforced disappearances by police forces were the Philippines’ most significant human rights issue. Duterte himself says 40% of officers are as “lousy as drug lords.”

The President’s war on drugs is behind many of the recent shortcomings

And this is where the story just changed. President Duterte had always been a strong supporter of the PNP, and its senior leadership, but the recent killing of Jee Ick Joo, demands he take strong action. In a shocking tale of authority gone wild the Korean businessman was abducted in a fake anti-drug operation and murdered by officers inside the PNP headquarters in Camp Crame.

South Korea’s human rights commission condemned the atrocity, saying violations that occurred under police supervision are a, “serious matter that violates the principle of rule of law which the United Nations has emphasised…they ignore and infringe upon human rights.”

The President agrees, saying the police were “corrupt to the core” and that he was “embarrassed” about their actions.

A culture of impunity has enveloped the police force

The violence shown by some police officers stems from a culture of impunity that once plagued previous administrations while martial law was in place. Teddy Casino, a Rappler journalist, writes that it is, not a problem of “scallywags infiltrating the police force,” but the lack of training and institutional checks on corruption and abuse or even low salaries.

But again, the numbers tell a different story. Training has been stepped up, it is reported, and police employees have some of the best salaries and benefits in the government service. Casino then attributes the present day corruption to “deep-seated, historical, structural and systematic” causes with “cultural and orientational flaws in all levels of the force.”

Whatever the reason, the police’s increasing impunity has generated backlash from high-ranking officials. Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said that Jee’s murder puts in doubt the, “integrity of the police and the legitimacy of their anti-crime mission.” Senator Alan Peter Cayetano added it is, “so sad, tragic, and inexcusable to use a government program to commit abuse.”

Duterte will pardon dela Rosa and continue the war against drugs

Despite the government’s commitment to prosecute those responsible for the murder, Duterte is still rejecting calls for PNP chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa to step down. He says he continues to trust dela Rosa as part of his team fighting crime and corruption.

Senator Cayetano also supports Duterte’s decision to keep dela Rosa on the force. He said that the PNP chief, like other heads of agencies, could not possibly keep close watch over all of his personnel. He added, “I am not calling for his courtesy or irrevocable resignation because I think he is doing a good job…I think it is certain people under him who have to take the responsibility (because there are a lot of layers before it reaches his level).”

Legal counsel Panelo says that the killing of the businessman was an isolated case. The chief officer will not be forced to step down. Without solving the internal problems of the police force, and the battle on the streets which encourages their culture of impunity, government expenditure on more police training is a waste of money.