PMAyers in PNP a vanishing breed
As he prepares to step down next month, Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Raul Bacalzo sees himself as an “endangered species,” a member of the vanishing breed of Philippine Military Academy (PMA) graduates in the police service.
In 10 years, he said, the PNP shall have seen the last of PMA mistahs, closing a thick, storied chapter in the history of a law enforcement agency which the 1987 Constitution describes as civilian in character, despite its deep military roots.
At present, just over 200 PMA graduates man positions in the PNP, including Bacalzo, a member of Class ’77. (Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Eduardo Oban Jr. is Bacalzo’s underclassman belonging to Class ’79.)
Power over the 140,000-strong force would ultimately shift to the graduates of the Cavite-based PNP Academy (PNPA), and to them Bacalzo offered a piece of advice: “Look at what is good about us PMA graduates and replicate it. Everything else you see that is not so good, remember them so you won’t make the same mistakes.”
“We are an endangered species. It is you who shall be left,” he said.
From PMA to PNPA
The PNPA was created in 1977 when the state’s chief law enforcement arm was known as the Integrated National Police, a unit under the AFP. Before its facilities were completed in Camp Castañeda in Silang, Cavite, its course was initially conducted on Army turf, in Fort Bonifacio. The PNPA produced its first graduates in 1980.
On the other hand, the PMA’s beginnings in Baguio City date back to 1936 during the Commonwealth period.
But what does the rise of this new ruling school in the PNP mean to the policed citizenry?
Bacalzo said the leadership shift from the PMA to the PNPA should signal a change in perspective, allowing the PNP to assume a fully civilian character.
It should remove, he said, what he called “dysfunctions” traceable to the militaristic training of past and present PNP leaders. “There were habits that somehow spilled [from the military] to the PNP,” Bacalzo said with unusual candor in a recent Inquirer interview.
Speaking at a forum in July, Bacalzo said the PNP’s military past may have been a factor why its members continue to be linked to human rights abuses, such as extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. He couched such dark baggage in milder terms: “birth pains.”
He took note of the long PNP history, from its origins under the American colonial period, its transformation into the militarized Philippine Constabulary in the 1930s, to its eventual separation from the AFP and further reforms under the Department of the Interior and Local Government.
“So there are some, shall we say, birth pains, when PNP was formed (separate from the AFP) in 1991,” Bacalzo said when asked why the PNP and the AFP remained the usual suspects in human rights abuses.
“Under martial law, we were under the military. We knew the views of the military back in the day. Hindi uso ang human rights noon (Not much talk of human rights back then). That was the prevailing thought,” he said in the interview.
Due process was not normally observed, said Bacalzo. “We (PMA graduates) are not perfect, you know. In the military, we’re covered by the Articles of War. We can immediately detain someone. Now we can’t do that anymore in the PNP. We have due process now,” he said.
But he admitted that there were still some police officials who continued to think that way. “That’s the kind of thinking that I said I want to remove. Now let’s put it in black and white. File a case, (take into account the respondents’) human rights, follow due process,” Bacalzo said.
He cited the case of Marine Colonel Generoso Mariano, who recently appeared in a YouTube video purportedly calling for the overthrow of the Aquino administration.
After the video made headlines, Mariano was immediately confined to quarters and placed under investigation by the Navy. “We (the PNP) can’t do something like that,” Bacalzo said. “We’re the police. If we were still military, we could do that.”
He also cited the controversies that hounded the tenure of past PNP chiefs who were products of PMA, like Panfilo Lacson (Class of 1971), Jesus Verzosa and Eliseo dela Paz (both of ’76).
Since the split from the AFP, the PNP had stopped taking in PMA graduates. Its succeeding officers and recruits had since come from the PNPA and other schools whose graduates applied through the National Police Commission.
The PNP chief acknowledged “perceptions” of jealousy and mistrust between PMA and PNPA graduates, especially those competing for plum positions. The general view was that PMA mistahs supposedly enjoyed a natural advantage since they shared the same alma mater with the higher-ups.
But Bacalzo maintained that such notions were misguided: “The junior (officers) today do compete among each other, but it’s a healthy, friendly competition.”
In fact, he said, a member of his directorial staff, Director Danilo Abarsoza, a two-star general, belongs to the pioneering PNPA Class of 1980. “What I see is that there’s a good fusion,” he said.
“If you notice, there are now a lot of PMA and PNPA classes combined. In the PMA Class of 1991, their honorary members are PNPA Class of 1991. In the same manner, the PMA Class of 1991 are honorary members of PNPA 1991. [This fusion] is happening now,” he said.
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