Police corruption and torture chambers

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

PNP-police-officersOnce respected for its professionalism and dedicated service to the country, the Philippine National Police (PNP) is faced with the biggest challenge in its existence. Formed in 1991 when the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Act was enacted, it merged the Philippine Constabulary and the Integrated National Police into national law enforcement force under one command, the PNP Director General (DG) who reports to the DILG Secretary. However, the appointing authority is the President of the Philippines. A graduate of the Philippine Military Academy, the DG carries the rank of a four-star general.

Currently, PNP has about 150,000 personnel, which makes the DG one of the most powerful officials in the country. Although, the PNP is under the administrative control of the DILG Secretary, the DG exercises great amount of autonomy and discretion in running the PNP.

"Hulidap" cop surrenders.

“Hulidap” cop surrenders.

Since its creation, the PNP had been beset with charges of anomalies and irregularities including allegations of protecting gambling lords, smuggling syndicates, and other criminal activities. There are also allegations of police officers involved in extortion and kidnapping for ransom, which is colloquially called “hulidap.” It was coined from “huli” (arrest) and “dap” (kidnap). Typically, a hulidap operation involves a police officer arresting someone on bogus charges and then keeping him or her for ransom.

One of the police’s most brutal methods used in extortion or to extract confessions for crimes is the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

Above the law

AI-Above-The-LawLast December 4, 2014, Amnesty International (AI) released a 120-page report titled “Above the Law: Police Torture in the Philippines.” According to the report, the police use an array of torture methods, including: electric shocks; beatings; punching and kicking; striking with wooden batons or metal bars; burning skin with cigarettes; waterboarding; near-asphyxiation with plastic bags; forcing detainees to assume stress positions; stripping detainees naked and tying and pulling genitalia with a string; hanging detainees upside down; mock executions; shooting; and rape.

Recently, AI’s Secretary General, Salil Shetty, was in Manila to launch the “Stop Torture” campaign. He said that although the Philippines had enacted the Anti-Torture Act five years ago, not a single official has been convicted. “The single, most important reason why there is torture in the Philippines is they [police] get away with it,” he said.

“Wheel of torture”

"Wheel of Torture"

“Wheel of Torture”

One method of torture that AI exposed was the “Wheel of Torture” game, which the police used for fun. The wheel is divided into sections like a pizza pie. Each section is labeled with the kind of torture to use. One section is labeled “20 seconds Manny Pacquiao.” If the wheel landed there, the officers would punch the detainees – mostly suspected drug traffickers — for 20 seconds. Another section is labeled “3 minutes Zombies” and another “30 seconds Duck Walk.”

The “wheel of torture” was allegedly stationed at a secret torture chamber in Binan, Laguna. According to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), the secret torture chamber was not an official detention center. At the time it was exposed, about 40 prisoners were illegally detained there.

AI said the torture of suspected criminals by the police has thrived under the administration of President Benigno Aquino III. Shetty accused Aquino of not doing enough to reform the PNP. According to CHR records, there were 457 torture cases reported from 2001 to the middle of 2014. In 2013 alone, there were 75 cases reported, the highest in a single year.

Attempts by AI to establish dialogue with Aquino, the DILG, and the PNP to discuss the report were ignored. However, presidential spokesman, Herminio Coloma, told the media: “The government is pursuing its efforts to prosecute those violating the anti-torture law.” The PNP also issued a statement contradicting AI’s findings and insisted that major reforms on human rights had been successfully implemented. But the truth of the matter is: there has never been a single conviction for torture, to which Shetty said, “If you don’t acknowledge the problem, there can be no solution.”

Preventive suspension

PNP Chief Alan Purisima

PNP Chief Alan Purisima

On the same day the AI report came out, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales coincidentally issued a six-month preventive suspension order against PNP Chief DG Alan Purisima over an allegedly anomalous contract the PNP had entered into with a courier service in 2011. The graft complaint against Purisima and 11 other PNP officers — including three generals — involved in the transaction stemmed from a contract with WERFAST Documentary Agency for the delivery of firearm licenses even without proper accreditation.

Initially, Purisima refused to comply and turned to his friend President Aquino for guidance. He sought a meeting with Aquino; however, Aquino told him that he had to comply with the suspension order.” Meanwhile, the search is on for the next PNP chief. Purisima is due to retire in November 2015.

With the police torture scandal and the suspension of the PNP’s top honcho, the PNP’s image may have been irreparably damaged. Indeed, it would be virtually impossible to restore its good name.

Gone were the days when the PC was looked upon as the defender of the people. But as it turned out, it’s quite the opposite – the people fear that it has become a predator preying on those they were sworn to protect. Surmise it to say, a majority of police officers are honest and incorruptible. However, many see them as a band of hoodlums in uniform.

Disbanding PNP

"Daang matuwid"

“Daang matuwid”

What is sad is that Purisima, who is one of Aquino’s trusted friends, has digressed from the “daang matuwid” (straight path) that Aquino had set to follow when he assumed the presidency. And Aquino’s initial reluctance to enforce the Ombudsman’s suspension order gave the impression that Aquino was too protective of his friends in government.

Police torture and the Purisima scandal have brought to the fore the issue of disbanding the PNP. Many are of the opinion that the PNP has outlived its usefulness and something should – nay, must! – be done about it. Either it is reformed, overhauled or disbanded. Some people even suggested that it should be surgically bisected into its original components – the Philippine Constabulary and the Integrated National Police — with some modifications to improve their performance.

But restructuring or dividing the monolithic PNP just to improve its performance wouldn’t achieve the ultimate goal, which is to stop police corruption. You can tell the police officers to follow a “daang matuwid” and rest assured it would still be “business as usual.” It takes more than sound bites to stop corruption. It takes leadership and the political will to take politics out of politics, which begs the question: Does President Aquino have what it takes to stop police corruption?

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)


2 Responses. Have your say.

  1. Eran Mangubat says:

    There is no need to disband, disect the PNP. What needs to be done is to have a genuine accountability from the director general all the way to the lowest rank. I think if the DG is elected instead of being appointed by the President, the DG could be held directly accountable to the people he/she is supposed to serve.

    I don’t know the case of General Purisima; however, I have a hunch that the allegations against him are worthy of full blown investigation. Perhaps a blue ribbon committee could be formed to investigate it. If he is found guilty, impose the consequential punishment. That will open the eyes of all police officers. Corruption is very rampant among most police officers. When I was there last year, a driver told me that men/women would like to be police officers so that they could easy money among drivers.

    I was a police officer from 1967-1973 in Quezon City. Bribery and extortion were common practices among most of the officers. I’ve been away from the Philippines since Feb 1973. I don’t know the rules and laws applicable to the police operation.

    • Bobby Bagos says:

      Nothing has change in the way our law enforcement people conducts its business, corruption is a standard practice or should I say a way of life. Of course that same practice exist in all branches of the government, so it’s no surprise. Lifestyle check among these people is just a waste of time, they go and flaunt what they’ve filfer from the people’s treasury and do it without consequence. I guess that’s why we were given that coveted title of being one of the most corrupt country in the world because it’s now part of our culture.

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