Abalos: If case weak vs ‘narco’ cops, ‘let them retire peacefully’
Senior police officers who are found to be involved in illegal drugs but the evidence against them isn’t “that strong” will be allowed to retire in peace and will not be subjected to public shaming, Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos said on Friday.
Abalos said there was no need to publicize the names of the police officials whose courtesy resignations would be accepted by President Marcos due to their involvement in the illegal drug trade.
“This is a radical move. Like what I have said, extraordinary times call for radical and bold actions. This is out of the box. In the same token let’s say if you receive a resignation, let them retire silently,” he said during a press conference at Camp Crame.
“Now, if we have enough evidence that would build up criminal cases, pursue them in court as mandated by law. If not, if you do not have that strong evidence but it was seen that they had involvement, let them retire peacefully,” he added.
But probe still on
Abalos clarified that even with the quiet exit of these police officials, “the monitoring and investigation on them must continue” to gather evidence that would lead to their eventual prosecution “because what is important is to eradicate the problem of drugs once and for all.”
He said 95 percent, or 904 out of 953 senior police officers composed of 774 colonels and 130 generals had submitted their courtesy resignations as of Friday—nine days after he called on them to voluntarily quit the service as part of the government’s efforts to remove the taint of illegal drugs on the Philippine National Police.
A resignation that is accepted is an indication that the officer was found to have been involved in one way or another with illegal drugs.
Jan. 31 deadline
This officer could be a user, protector of drug traders, drug distributor, an extortionist who victimizes both complainants and suspected drug offenders, one who “recycles” seized drugs or who possesses narcotics.
As head of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and chair of the National Police Commission (Napolcom), Abalos exercises supervision over the 227,000-strong police force.
PNP spokesperson Police Col. Jean Fajardo said that the total number of third-level officials, or those holding leadership positions, went down from the original 956 due to retirement.
The remaining 49 senior officers are expected to submit their courtesy resignations ahead of the Jan. 31 deadline set by PNP chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr., who was among the first to offer to step down.
Abalos said that measures to take against police officials who refuse to submit their courtesy resignations by the end of the month were still under discussion. But filing administrative charges against them for insubordination would not be an option as his call last week was just an appeal.
Those who submitted their resignations would be evaluated by a five-man committee, which is independent of the PNP and the DILG.
Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong, a retired police general, will be part of the committee. Abalos refused to identify the other members.
“We will give them (five members of the committee) all the intelligence reports, all of the evidence that we have. It is all for them to decide,” Abalos explained.
The names of the police officials would then be submitted for another screening by the Napolcom, which would then give a list to the President of the officers whose resignations should be accepted.
According to Abalos, the Napolcom evaluation may amend—specifically, trim down—the list of names which it would receive from the five-man committee.
“I’d rather have one man who is guilty to be off the hook, than one innocent person to be dismissed [from the service]. What is important to me is that these names [that would be given to the President] will be screened thoroughly,” he stressed.
Fajardo said the officers could still appeal the findings of the Napolcom, which may be the reason Abalos was keeping their names secret.
“If there is a need to release the names in the interest of transparency, then we need to wait for the process to be completed. We don’t want to jump into conclusions and release them in haste,” she said.
Abalos expects the entire process to be completed in about two months before Azurin retires on April 24 and his successor is appointed.
This would be faster than a similar work done in 1993 by a committee headed by then Interior Secretary Rafael Alunan III, which took around six months to complete.
Then President Fidel Ramos issued Memorandum Order No. 93, creating a screening committee to evaluate the voluntary applications for retirement by senior police officers to give him an opportunity to “reorganize and institute reforms in the leadership of the PNP.”
According to Alunan, 63 generals and colonels were ordered to retire “to enable younger blood to rise and run the institution they love.”In the next three and a half years of the Ramos administration, more than 3,000 more police officers were relieved, discharged or criminally prosecuted.
“His initiative mustn’t be seen as a publicity stunt to advance his selfish agenda at their expense. And he must be prepared to deal with a potential mutiny should the process take a wrong turn,” Alunan said of Abalos in his Manila Times column on Tuesday.
Shortcut, graceful exit
Abalos’ move to purge police ranks of officers involved in drugs had been criticized both as a shortcut that violates the rule of law and as a “graceful exit” for “narco cops.”
Carlos Conde of the US-based Human Rights Watch said the interior secretary made a “preposterous” call that would allow officers involved in drugs to evade accountability by simply quitting.
Cristina Palabay of the human rights group Karapatan said it was a “cynical ploy” that would give officers linked to drugs an “easy way out of scrutiny.”
Other critics said the call for mass resignation violates the police officers’ right to due process.Opposition Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III said that Abalos should file criminal cases against drug-linked police officials if he believed in the information he had against them.
“Those who protect the crooked are ‘in conspiracy’ with them and should be charged too under the conspiracy theory,” he said.