Cleansing the police ranks

By Modesto P. Sa-onoy

Reports say that 153 members of the Philippine National Police in Occidental Negros were subjected to a surprise drug test ostensibly as part of the cleaning up of the PNP. Included in the examination were non-uniformed personnel or civilian employees working in the police offices.

Included among those tested were 161 personnel who were chosen at random from among the personnel of the different divisions of Police Regional Office 6. Reports also said that included in the testing were Police Col. Harold Tuzon, Deputy Regional Director for Operations, and some members of the regional staff.

This is not new, we had them several times before, but we noticed that every time there was such a test, only the lower rank personnel underwent the process. Although a police colonel and some officers were included, not all had been checked. I think, more than the lower ranks everyone at the top should undergo the examination.

The Police Regional Office 6 said that those found positive in any of the tests conducted will be dismissed from the service on the grounds of Conduct Unbecoming of a Police Officer. While this is fine, the public will have to ask: is that it? Ordinary drug users get more than just being dismissed from their jobs – they sometimes get killed.

In fact, terminating them does not solve the problem. It could even be worse for the dismissed policeman. He might be tempted to “go for broke” when he is discarded and jobless. Many have families to support.

Anyway,  I suppose the higher ranks, up to the level of generals have taken the test. I wonder though whether this assumption is correct otherwise the message projected to the public is that the top brasses are super clean or are immune to the deadly drug they need not be tested.

The drug test conducted in Bacolod was labeled “internal cleansing”. By this term it means only about drugs but more than flushing out drugs is purging or purification of the inner self of the policeman or officer. The use of drugs or its peddling are mere symptoms of the rotten core of the person. We have seen last year how top officials of the PNP who were supposed to be free of drug use as the perpetrator of the more vicious crime of recycling the confiscated illegal drugs.

Brig-Gen. Rene Pamuspusan, Western Visayas police chief, was reported telling his subordinate officers that the internal cleansing is one of his priorities. This is a good sense but is there a holistic program to prevent the police officer from being a user or a drug protector other than dismissal or even imprisonment?

There is a case that is of lesser concern than drugs, but it demonstrates the importance of a comprehensive approach to a problem usually plaguing a police force – womanizing. The late Police Colonel Arcadio Lozada embarked on a program that utilized religious, moral and social mechanisms to inculcate a higher and deeper sense of personal responsibility for one’s action whether in or out of the uniform or duty.

It did work and during his time, Bacolod’s police department was a model for other police units. He was, however, reposted to Manila on direct of President Fidel Ramos. One of his remarkable achievements was to help draft the formation of the Philippine National Police Commission and the National Police Academy to separate the army mentality from police officers. The Police Regional Training center here in Bacolod was part of that holistic approach including the formation of the Police Advisory Council composed of leading citizens of the city.

These institutions combined to create a police force that is grounded not only on police matters but also on public relations and family harmony. Does the PNP have these instruments that will make the policeman less a soldier but a community protector?

The problem is that the police have developed a military mentality rather than civilians dealing directly with people. The recent return to military ranks indicates this mindset.

That is understandable because of the training of police officers hewed closely or is an imitation of the Philippine Military Academy. A soldier is or should be different from a policeman, their reasons for their being are different, their enemies are different; the means for the attainment of that purpose should be different.