By Perry Diaz
It must have been fate that brought President Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte and Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Ronald dela Rosa together 30 years ago in the aftermath of the EDSA People Power Revolution that toppled the Marcos dictatorship. Duterte was appointed acting vice-mayor of Davao City by then President Cory Aquino. Dela Rosa, then a fresh graduate of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 1986, was commissioned Lieutenant and assigned to the now-defunct Philippine Constabulary (PC) in Davao City. Their paths crossed and their lives have since been intertwined. Their personal relationship was also enhanced when Duterte stood as a principal sponsor at Dela Rosa’s wedding.
Over the years, they remained loyal to one another. In his Facebook account, Dela Rosa posted a greeting on Duterte’s birthday: “I never feared to enforce the law and prevent crimes because you are always there watching my back. To the greatest leader on Earth, Mayor RRD, happy birthday Sir!” Indeed, “Bato” – Dela Rosa’s moniker, which means “stone” – had nothing but warm words for his mentor and ninong. And when Rody ran for president, Bato posted, “Those who will cheat and will manipulate this May 9 elections, be warned! We will crush you!”
Born on January 21, 1962 in Barangay Bato, Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur, Ronald Marapon dela Rosa earned his moniker “Bato” not because of where he was born but because of his rock-like persona. It’s a reputation that he lived by. And when Duterte won the presidency last May 9, he picked his loyal friend Bato to become Chief of the 160,000-strong PNP, bypassing more senior police officers who were Bato’s upperclassmen at the PMA. Traditionally, they are the ones on the “short list” for promotion to the top police job. Yep, one-star police general Dela Rosa’s promotion earned him the four stars reserved for PNP Chiefs; thus, bypassing several two-star and three-star police generals on the PNP hierarchy.
He took over the top PNP job on July 1, 2016, a day after his boss, “The Punisher” – Duterte’s street moniker – was sworn in as president of the country. On his first day on the job, Bato warned the policemen involved in illegal drugs that “they have 48 hours to surrender to him.” He didn’t waste any time going after them. Calling him “Bato” would be kinder than what I’d call him – a pit bull… on the loose.
On the second day, it was rumored that 20 imprisoned drug lords have put a P1-billion contract on his and Duterte’s heads. But instead of cowering in fear from the jailed drug lords’ threat to assassinate them, Duterte and Dela Rosa went on the offensive.
To put an end to the corrupt culture inside the New Bilibid Prison, where the drug lords are given VIP privileges, Duterte ordered the replacement of the correctional officers with commandos from the PNP’s elite Special Action Force (SAF), the equivalent of the SWAT teams in the U.S.
Face the music
A few days later, during his speech at the 69th anniversary of the Philippine Air Force, Duterte named and relieved five high-ranking police generals from their posts whom he said were allegedly involved in illegal drugs.
The following day, three of the five named police generals, who are still in active duty, reported to Dela Rosa in his office at Camp Crame. They professed innocence and sought due process. “They were very sad. I want to cry with them,” Dela Rosa said of the three officers. “My advice to them is face the music,” he said.
While it might take some time to investigate and prosecute the erring generals, one immediate result of exposing their alleged illegal activity is that it will serve as a warning to all police officers that coddling with drug lords will not be tolerated under the Duterte administration and Dela Rosa will see to it that nobody – regardless of rank – is spared.
Drug pushers surrender
In Camp Tolentino in Limay, Bataan, Dela Rosa was on hand to witness about 600 drug pushers who surrendered to the PNP. In a press conference that followed, he said that the PNP was ready to wage war against politicians involved in the illegal drug trade. In particular, he mentioned “local chief executives” with links to drug lords. He said they’re part of the Duterte administration’s goal, which is to stop – or suppress – corruption, criminality, and illegal drugs within six months. According to Dela Rosa, there are at least 23 local chief executives on the list that Duterte provided him. However, he said that it’s up to the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) to “handle” the erring mayors.
The question is: Why did Dela Rosa say it’s up to the DILG to “handle” the mayors involved in the illegal drug trade? Is it not a police matter? Or is it best handled politically by the DILG, which is a “political” body?
But going after the local chief executives would be like fishing in small ponds. More than likely all you’d be catching are the butete — tadpoles. Why not go fishing in larger bodies of water where bigger fish abound? And who are these “bigger fish” in the illegal drug trade? And who is the “biggest fish” among them? Could it be that there exist powerful politicians or political dynasties that condone – nay, protect – the drug lords in their political turfs, which makes one wonder: Are they untouchable? Is someone protecting the “protectors” of the drug lords?
This would certainly be Duterte’s – and Bato’s – biggest challenge. And this could be the root of corruption that Duterte detested so much. Surmise it to say, the bigger the amount of “dirty money” generated in illegal activities, the larger corruption becomes. And what could generate more “dirty money” than the illegal drug trade?
Needless to say, Duterte and Dela Rosa, working in tandem, are off to a good start. They have a goal and a timeframe… six months. All they need now is a plan that works. And this is where they can fail miserably or succeed modestly. I said “modestly” because I don’t think they can achieve their goal within six months. But it would definitely be a great start because the alternative is unthinkable.
We all know what Duterte wants. But what we don’t know is if he has the political will to go after the corrupt politicians who are involved in the illegal drug trade, some of whom might be his friends and political allies. It would clearly be a test of his leadership.
We also know that Dela Rosa has the ability to fight the illegal drug lords. He’s proven it when he was with the Davao City police force under the guidance of his mentor and ninong. But what we don’t know is if he has the gumption to fight them in a much larger arena where there are no rules of engagement, and where only those who are tempered with fire and hard as the Rock of Gibraltar survive. If there is one such crime-fighter that fits the mold, Bato is the man. He is a hard rock to crack, indeed.