Credibility problem – Manila Standard

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WE take very little solace in the promise of Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa that the police will exercise “extreme caution” if President Rodrigo Duterte returns them to a lead role in the war on drugs.

“We will be proceeding at full speed but with extreme caution. We have learned a lot of lessons,” he said during the flag-raising ceremony at Camp Crame Monday. 

In October, Duterte pulled the PNP from the anti-narcotics campaign and handed the lead role to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency after police were implicated in the killing of several teenagers in what appeared to be summary executions. 

Now, barely a month later, the President says he is reconsidering his decision, causing alarm among those who fear more killings—and police abuses—in the name of the war on drugs.

But Dela Rosa said the PNP has learned from its mistakes, such as the killing of 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos, and suggested one safeguard would have police officers wear body cameras to record all their interactions during anti-drug operations.

The trouble with such assurances, however, is that the PNP chief himself has lost a fair amount of credibility. 

When a South Korean businessman was murdered by crooked anti-narcotics cops inside police headquarters in October 2016, Dela Rosa expressed anger and shame, but insisted that the case was an isolated one, and had nothing to do with the PNP anti-drug campaign.

But in the fallout of the Jee Ick-joo murder, the President suspended the controversial police program Oplan Tokhang in January 2017, presumably to allow the PNP to purge its ranks of scalawags.

But in August, an unreformed PNP launched anti-drug operations in Bulacan and Metro Manila that killed 57 drug suspects in just two days, winning them praise from the President, who said “if we could kill another 32 everyday, then maybe we can reduce what ails this country.”

The trouble was, teenagers like Delos Santos became part of the body count, and witness accounts and forensic evidence showed they did not fight back, as the police claim, but were executed with impunity by cops who believed they could do anything under the shield of Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs.

Palpable public outrage soon forced the President to sideline the PNP once again, until Mr. Duterte’s trial balloon about reinstating the police in his drug war.

It is salient to point out that Dela Rosa, who says the police have learned many lessons from the killing of Delos Santos and other minors, was the same official who blatantly tried to smear Delos Santos as a drug runner in a desperate bid to do damage control. 

Dela Rosa, too, was the police chief who cried crocodile tears in congressional hearings over accusations that the police were killing indiscriminately, then watched as the bodies of drug suspects piled up, with every new wave of the war on drugs.

Do we really want him in charge again of the country’s anti-drug effort?

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