THE NEW CHIEF OF THE PHILIPPINE NATIONAL Police was an activist in his freshman year at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, in 1972.
?That was shortly before martial law, when activism was at its height,? Jesus Verzosa said, recalling how, as a gangly 18-year-old, he stood out in protest rallies.
But the luster of student activism began to fade for Verzosa after martial law was declared in September of that year. ?I wasn?t a real advocate of armed struggle, only of cultural change. Also, I began to see there was no future in the movement. It offered no alternative solution,? he said.
The next year, his father, a military colonel, convinced him to take the entrance exams at the Philippine Military Academy.
?Before that, I knew nothing of the PMA. All I knew was that it was involved in parades. The first time I stepped into the PMA was my first time in Baguio,? Verzosa recalled with a chuckle.
He graduated from the PMA in 1976. Yesterday, he assumed command of the 125,000-strong national police force.
President Macapagal-Arroyo?s first marching order to Verzosa, 54, is to help in her administration?s mission to bring peace to the troubled South.
Verzosa has previously been assigned in Basilan and Maguindanao, provinces where the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the bandit group Abu Sayyaf are known to operate.
In her speech during yesterday?s turnover ceremony at Camp Crame, the President said Verzosa had the experience ?valuable to what we are seeking to do today?that is, to do everything possible to bring lasting peace in Mindanao and end 40 years of fighting that has killed more than 120,000 people.?
Ms Arroyo also reiterated her administration?s goal to pursue the stalled peace process in Mindanao.
?[We are committed] to end the violence that has held the southern part of our country back,? she said.
The President also said she expected the PNP under Verzosa to play ?a very strong role? in enforcing ?disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation? in certain parts of Mindanao, where government troops are hunting down MILF Commanders Ameril Ombra Kato, Abdullah Macapaar alias Bravo and Aleem Sulaiman Pangalian, who led deadly attacks against civilians in August.
?After all,? the current operations against the renegade MILF commanders are ?a law enforcement exercise, not an all-out war,? she said.
At a press conference later yesterday, Verzosa said he would order more police resources and personnel to Mindanao.
He said that in order to maximize the deployment, he would advocate the formation of an interim police group that would integrate various regions in certain areas, similar to the area commands of the Armed Forces.
He promised to spend time talking with Gen. Alexander Yano, the AFP chief of staff and his classmate at the PMA, on how to solve the problem in Mindanao.
?We are going to be jogging and talking together on Mindanao. He is also a fitness buff like me,? Verzosa said.
He invited reporters to jog with him every morning, saying these sessions would be open for interviews.
In his assumption speech, Verzosa said he would make ?effective leadership? a way of life in the police force.
This, he said, would make the delivery of police services more effective and PNP commanders less dependent on national headquarters.
Verzosa also promised to be a hands-on leader and to spend more time visiting policemen in the field.
?We shall develop leaders at all levels. And I shall lead these leaders ? We shall hit the ground running by enhancing police services where they matter most,? he said.
Verzosa?s star rose quickly when he joined the PNP, where he is known as a tenacious investigator and an intelligence expert.
He has gone up against urban terrorists, robbery gangs and kidnap-for-ransom groups.
Verzosa has held vital positions in the PNP, including commander of Region IV-A (Calabarzon, considered a hotbed of crime syndicates), the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (or CIDG, the premier investigation unit), and the Intelligence Group (or IG, the primary unit against terrorists and ranking members of insurgent groups like the New People?s Army).
As Region IV-A commander, Verzosa and his team cracked the rape case that led to the arrest and prosecution of then Mayor Antonio Sanchez of Calauan, Laguna.
Among the many sensational cases he has handled as CIDG chief is the murder of actress Nida Blanca.
As IG chief, Verzosa directed operations that led to the arrest of terrorists Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi and Muklis.
He has also brought down crime groups like the Johnny Ong drug ring and the Villacer kidnap-for-ransom gang.
But this early, Verzosa has had his share of criticism.
Cause-oriented groups have raised his involvement in the enforcement of martial law in its later years, and challenged him to improve the PNP?s human rights record.
To this, Verzosa said: ?We already have a human rights program existing and we have plans of strengthening it. We are closely coordinating with Commission on Human Rights Chair Leila de Lima.?
He said the PNP had also banned the practice of making a public presentation of suspects ?who are considered innocent until proven guilty by a court,? and had established its own Human Rights Affairs Office.
As for the escape of Al-Ghozi from a detention cell in Camp Crame in 2003, Verzosa had this to say: ?I gave up my position as IG chief to give way to an impartial investigation by a fact-finding body headed by Sedfrey Ordoñez. I was exonerated.?
He said he led efforts to recapture Al-Ghozi, but ?unluckily,? the man was killed.
But Al-Ghozi?s escape was an eye-opener for Verzosa that led him to discover the ?dysfunction? in the PNP systems: ?I saw the sorry state of our jails and buildings, and procedural lapses.?
Al-Ghozi?s escape resulted in the formation of the PNP Reform Commission, which made a study on the dysfunction that Verzosa saw.
That, combined with the 2004 UN Development Program study of the police force, led to the establishment of the PNP?s Transformation Program and its implementing arm, the Program Management Office.
?The Al-Ghozi incident became a springboard for further reforms in the PNP. I guess you can say it was providential,? Verzosa said.
As PNP chief, Verzosa intends to make the force more efficient by training all 1,600 chiefs of police, 80 provincial commanders and 17 regional commanders to become managers.
?That will be our main agenda, to implement our program of building leadership from the chiefs of police up. That is what we lack in critical crime-prone areas and in places with an insurgency problem,? he said.
According to Verzosa, leadership at the top will result in efficiency. And a more efficient and better led police force will be capable of bringing down the crime rate and improving its anticrime campaign.
?All commanders will be accountable and responsible for the anticrime campaigns in their areas,? he said.
Verzosa is convinced that training in management will allow commanders to link up with other stakeholders in the community to help in the prevention and solution of crimes in their areas.
The focus on management is the crux of the PNP?s Transformation Program, which Verzosa spearheaded during his term as deputy chief for administration, the PNP?s second highest post.
He also headed the Program Management Office.
To the max
?This time, as PNP chief, we will implement the transformation program to the max,? Verzosa said.
He said the program would make every police chief and unit commander an effective manager, and all the members of the force ?men and women of integrity and self-sacrifice.?
Verzosa also said he would push for the modernization program started by his predecessor, Avelino Razon.
Armed with a P10-billion fund from the President, the PNP aims to improve and modernize its ? shoot, move, communicate and investigate? capability, he said.