The sorry state of police and justice systems in the Philippines

Posted December 30, 2020

A few days ago, the Philippine public was exposed to a tragic image of a mother and her son being shot to death by a policeman in broad daylight amidst several onlookers. It is a blatant arrogant display of the mighty power of a policeman with a gun acting as an executioner and having an air of impunity against unarmed and defenseless citizens with no criminal activities or intent.

The saddest part of this horrible image is that it was not of a kind of rare occurrence. Similar ones had happened in the recent past. In most likelihood, it would show itself again—and not for long. Sadly, there is currently an environment in our country that seem to imply that Filipino lives do not matter.

It turned out that the policeman-killer has a history of misconduct and was charged with two homicide cases which were dismissed for “lack of substantial evidence”. One would think that a policeman with such a bad record would have been suspended from service and disarmed, at the very least.

This grievous incident suggests a few things about the sorry state of the country’s police and justice systems.  At the micro level, it brings to question the effectiveness and adequacy of the internal regulations of the police force in protecting ordinary citizens from police abuses.

At the macro level, two things come to mind. The first one is about the people’s faith and reliance on the justice system in adjudicating disputes between citizens. With the pervasive image of our justice system as being delayed and corrupt, both potential victims and perpetrators shun obtaining the aid of the state prosecution and the courts. The potential victims feel that they would not get a fair shake; while the potential lawbreakers take the law into their own hands as they feel they can get away with breaking the law.

The second macro-observation relates to the conceptual basis of the police function.

Historically, our police system has a militaristic bent. The present police force is the offspring of the former Philippine Constabulary (PC) which can be characterized as being more military in form and nature than as a civilian police force. An attempt was made to make the PC more civilian in character when it was reorganized as the Philippine National Police (PNP). However, up until today, the PNP Chief and most ranking officers are drawn from the pool of graduates of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA). As a result, the PNP continues to have a military perspective. Even the present Philippine National Police Academy obviously has been organized using the PMA as its model.

During this time of pandemic, it is a common sight in television to see police officers and non-officers wearing camouflaged uniforms as if they are engaged in a military battle in a war zone. This condition had even become worse when the present administration changed the already civilian titles of the members of the police force and restored them to those used in the military.

What we have lost in the present police organization is the mindset that is unique and necessary for a police organization. There is a stark difference between the objective of the military function, on the one hand, and the police function, on the other hand.

The aim of a military force is to destroy lives and properties so that the opposing force can be subdued utterly and then to declare victory over the enemy and occupy the enemy’s territory and control all its resources.

The police function is starkly the opposite. The aim of the police force is to protect and preserve life and property of the citizens in accordance with civil law. Therefore, the organization, staffing, education, training, and rules of engagement of the police force must be markedly different from those of a military force.

For as long as this conceptual basis for the police function, as clearly contrasted from that of the military function, is not understood and applied, the ability of the police to fulfill its function to protect life and property of the Philippine population cannot be relied upon.

This leads us to the next level of the inherent character of the police. Following this inability to differentiate between a military and police function, the recruitment and character of the police force trained will not be different at all.

The military is trained to obey, shoot, and ask questions later. The police should not be doing that simply because they are there to serve and to protect life and property. The standard that will apply to a police officer should, in fact, be higher than a standard applied to the military.

It is the responsibility of all the three branches of our government, if not to the present generation, to the succeeding generations to collaboratively understand thoroughly the current state of the police and justice systems so that the proper and effective solutions are found and put in place.

If the present leaders in these three branches of government cannot do so, they must give way to others who are willing and capable to do what it all takes.


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