Editorial: Model officer, best practices

Last week, the Association of Barangay Captains (ABC) in Talisay City invited over the city’s police chief P/Lt. Col. Gerard Ace Pelare to enlighten the body on the progress of Oplan Limpyo Talisay, a big part of which is now seeing full fruition in Barangay Tanke, erstwhile one of the worst drug hives in all parts of the country, practically an open bazaar for retail meth.

In the post-presentation open forum, one of the barangay chiefs brought up the matter on the challenge that village tanods have to face after apprehending an offender. They wondered why the police would not take in a suspect without the tanod securing first a medical certification from a government hospital. This would be extra effort on the part of the lowly tanods, said the village chief. In response, Pelare explained the notion of citizen arrest, that it is the responsibility of the tanod being the “arresting officer” to see to it that official medical records would prove that the arrested individual was not in any way harmed. The receiving policeman, who doesn’t have direct knowledge on how the arrest was conducted, needs the document to protect himself from any accountability should there be any prior harm done on the suspect. The point in securing the medical certification is for everyone’s protection, explained Pelare. The explanation inspired an a-ha moment among the village officials.

That moment of clarity and healthy exchange more than highlights the advantage that Pelare himself is a lawyer, for the big part it illustrates the officer’s healthy disposition in his work as the city’s police chief and his pervasive input into the city’s Oplan Limpyo program—a four-tiered agenda aimed at beating the illegal drug trade presence in Talisay City, persistently singled out in a number of speeches by President Rodrigo Duterte, the last of which was an aside in his speech during a Sinulog ceremony in 2020.

The region’s police organization has been getting a healthy dose of reorientation on legal matters pertaining to their job from Pelare through his free “Itanong kay Attorney Tsip” program. On many occasions during lectures, the lawyer-cop quizzed young police trainees on proper arrest protocols, and it had been observed that there is, indeed, a great need for re-education among these young cops. This observation comes in the wake of highlighted allegations of human rights violations hurled at the Philippine National Police (PNP) in the government’s war against drugs and the Department of Justice’s Prosecution Service report that said that the country’s prosecution rate on illegal drug cases has only been 50 percent for many years now, mostly attributed to sloppy observance of legal requirements.

This week, Pelare faces the last hurdle in the final screening for Metrobank Foundation’s Outstanding Filipinos award. He carries with him a credential of approximately 2,000 arrests of drug personalities in Talisay City without a stain of human rights violation. The arrests accounted for over P100 million worth of illegal drugs seized. In a nutshell, Pelare has put forth what he has been widely recognized for in his career—police-community relations.

In an interview, he explained he had taken to heart two favorite takeaways from his mentors: one, that cops on the streets represent the very human face of government; two, a quote from one of his favorite films, “Gladiator”: “Win the crowd, win the war.”

Pelare had led the construction of communal toilets in impoverished fisherfolk sitios in coastal Barangay Tanke, encouraged the citizens there to help report illegal drug activities. As of last count, there are 117 volunteers in the village, doing regular rounds in the company of a field cop thrice a day. To beat the devil, said Pelare, befriend the people around it so they can help in the cause. The “Tanke Defenders” embody just this strategy, which Pelare describes as “analytical and human rights-based.”

Evidently, the residents in Barangay Tanke are starting to reclaim their village. A resident remarked how they seemed to live in a posh gated village now with 24-hour security, and yet another said they are slowly gaining confidence in using Tanke as their address in job application documents, something they had all the scruples of considering the bad repute.

All thanks to the sustained efforts of the city’s cop chief, which we hope will eventually bear more concrete and sustainable policies in the future. The example he had shown to the young cops under his wing we hope inspires the latter towards a career of genuine community service and a consciousness that human rights are non-negotiable in the carrying out of police work.