Security reform in the first 100 days - Blueboard by Jennifer Santiago Oreta
Whether you like him or not, the fact remains that no other President has placed the issue of security at the center of the public’s discourse on his first 100 days in office. In so doing, he has forced the public to think and rethink the way we have been managing the broad concept of safety and security. Since security reform is an all too important issue to be left in the hands of bureaucrats and experts, this is something that must be commended.
This article focuses on one aspect of security reform – the police.
The fact that about 3,500 people have been killed in the first 100 days in office of the current administration, whether because of police operations or due to vigilantism, is a cause for alarm. It signals the sliding situation of law and order. Thirty-five people a day getting killed, 60% of which are outside legitimate police operations, means that the police force is not “on top of the situation” - the vigilante groups are. The vigilante groups are now the ones that dictate who lives and who dies. And the fact that the police have not yet pinpointed anyone group responsible for the killings means that they themselves are caught with their pants down. Indeed, several gangs and syndicates are already riding on the ‘war on drugs,’ either eliminating rival groups to consolidate control over territories, or killing suspected deep penetration agents. Even dirty policemen are also cleaning up their tracks – and the ‘war on drugs’ gave them the best smokescreen –a set of cardboard with the sign “pusher ako” and a roll of packaging tape are all one needs.
Prior to the assumption to office of President Duterte, the police force was not a model unit immaculately clad in white – on the contrary, it was the subject of several reform interventions, from within and outside the institution. The Patrol Plan 2030 and the (Human)‘Rights-based’ policing were two major efforts that have been initiated under the previous administration to modernize, professionalize, and strengthen the compliance to human rights and rule of law of the police force. Several prominent groups and personalities were tapped in these endeavors as testament to the commitment of the institution to reform.
The police force, together with the military, are the primary instruments of the state to enforce its authority. They have the monopoly of the legitimate use of force – this means that these institutions are allowed to use force, even violence if necessary, in order to make everyone toe the line and follow the rules. This is precisely the reason why they are the primary targets of reform to strengthen their human rights and rule of law compliance,ensuring in the process that their members will not abuse and violate the vast powers entrusted to them.
Based on formal and informal conversations with PNP officers, the institution is committed to pursue the path towards reform. For 2017 in fact, its key indicators include (a) increased feeling of safety in the National Safety Index, (b) reduction in the National Index Crime Rate, and (c) increase in Crime Solution efficiency. These targets will be supported by a 25% increase in the PNP budget, from 88.6 billion in 2016 to 110.4 billion in the proposed 2017 budget. The increase in budget will allow the police to hire more people, buy more guns and vehicles, and support other activities necessary to achieve the targets.
Yet, while there is commitment on the part of the officers, it is also quite obvious that the PNP has not fully weaved the reform agenda with its ‘war on drugs’ operations. Of course one can argue that the exigency of the ‘war on drugs’ dictates the tempo of police operations. But it is precisely because the situation is getting out of hand that makes it more compelling to be stricter with the rigor of professionalism and the use of rights-based approach in handling criminality. Professionalism and rights-based policing approach are the major levers of control that the institution can use to rein in its force – letting go of these can lead to a maverick but out-of-control police force.
This is at the core of all concerns about the ‘war on drugs.’ While the PNP is undergoing reforms, it still needs to hurdle a number of bumps along the road before it can claim to be a fully professional and human rights-based. While majority of our police forces are patriots, there are still a number of bad eggs in their midst. And given the breadth and depth of the operations it has initiated to rid the country of drug-abuse, the floodgates for potential abuse has also been opened.
There is no doubt that the majority supports the administration’s drive against illegal drugs – the SWS survey in fact registers an 84% satisfaction rating. But majority – 71% in the same survey – also said they believe it is very important for suspects to be caught alive. This is a wake-up call for the PNP to continue and strengthen its resolve to promote human rights and due process in its operations. Since criminal groups are operating double-time as attested by the number of vigilante-killings, the police force needs all the help it can get, but people would only be willing to get involved if there are assurances that the institution promotes due process, rule of law, and human rights.
We are just in the first 100 days – the administration still has 2,090 remaining days in office. It is not yet too late to get back on track.
Jennifer Santiago Oreta is a faculty member of the Department of Political Science of Ateneo de Manila University, and the Chairman of the Board of the Security Reform Initiative (SRI).