Philippine police chief joins top cop review committee

By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

THE PHILIPPINES’ national police chief will be part of a five-man team that will look into the records of top police officers who may be involved in the illegal drug trade, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) said on Wednesday.

“The advisory group will be conducting the review of police officers voluntarily and without salary,” Interior Secretary Benjamin C. Abalos, Jr. told a news briefing streamed live on Facebook.

“It is only proper that the national police chief  is there to steer the committee since he is in the position to give decent intelligence reports.”

The five-man advisory body will be composed of national police chief General Rodolfo S. Azurin, Jr., Baguio City Mayor Benjamin B. Magalong, ex-Defense Secretary Gilberto C. Teodoro, retired police Major General Isagani R. Nerez and a fifth person who declined to be named, he said.

The committee should have a member from civil society, Jamie B. Naval, who teaches political science at the University of the Philippines (UP), said by telephone.

“Let us have more representation from the outside looking in for the panel’s credibility and integrity,” he said.

Herman Joseph S. Kraft, who also teaches political science at UP, said Mr. Azurin’s role could raise questions about the panel’s independence.

“I guess the logic is understandable, but what does ‘steering the committee’ mean? Doesn’t this raise questions about the autonomy of the committee?” he said via Viber.

Last month, the Interior chief called on all colonels and generals to resign after a probe found many top police officers were involved in the illegal drug trade.

The review could take as long as three months, Mr. Azurin said. The committee will then submit its recommendations to the National Police Commission, which is headed by the Interior chief.

Mr. Azurin, who quit his job on Jan. 5, earlier said the committee should be composed of people outside the police and DILG to ensure fairness.

The police chief’s record had been screened after he submitted his courtesy resignation, Mr. Abalos said.

Only one top-level police officer did not heed the call to quit before the Jan. 31. deadline, he said.

Mr. Abalos noted that five senior cops did not resign since they had retired, while six others were about to retire.

He earlier said the committee and National Police Commission would continue investigating retired senior cops involved in illegal drugs.

“We fully respect his right,” he said, declining to name the senior cop. “I am not ordering or commanding anyone. It’s an appeal.”

President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. earlier said the Interior secretary’s quit call was part of his plan to do something about the country’s illegal drug problem.

He told police in August to temper their use of force while doing their jobs. Mr. Abalos said in July the anti-illegal drug campaign would be “as intensive as before.”

A total of 2,518 drug suspects were arrested during illegal drug operations from Jan. 1 to 16, 146 of whom were considered high-value targets, Mr. Azurin said last month.

Police seized about P81 million worth of illegal drugs in 1,831 drug operations.

Political experts have said the Marcos government should enforce the law instead of asking top cops to quit, which they said could foster impunity in the country.

Ephraim B. Cortez, president of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, earlier said those involved in drugs should be investigated, identified and prosecuted.”

At least 25 policemen have been charged with murder in connection with ex- President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s anti-illegal drug campaign, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla told the United Nations Human Rights Council in November. An inter-agency task force on extralegal killings had investigated at least 17,000 cops.

Data released by the Philippine government in June 2021 showed that at least 6,117 suspected drug dealers had been killed in police operations. Human rights groups estimate that as many as 30,000 suspects died.

The Philippines accepted more than 200 recommendations from the UN Human Rights Council in November, including investigating extralegal killings and protecting journalists.

More than 30 member-states of the UN body urged the Marcos government to do something about these.

“We hope to finish the review process in three months,” Mr. Abalos said. “The sooner we finish, the better.”