PNP chief Purisima suspension creates gap at the top
A vacuum looms in the leadership of the Philippine National Police after the Office of the Ombudsman placed Director General Alan Purisima under preventive suspension for six months for an allegedly anomalous contract with a courier service for the delivery of PNP-issued gun licenses.
This was the first time in the history of the police force long regarded as one of the most corrupt government agencies that a PNP chief was suspended from office over allegations of corruption.
The second most powerful man in the PNP, Deputy Director General Felipe Rojas Jr., will retire Friday as he turns 56, the compulsory retirement age for PNP personnel.
Rojas is the deputy chief for administration, which acts as the PNP chief’s right-hand man.
Courier service, AK-47s
The suspension order issued by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales for Purisima et al. stemmed from the alleged anomalous multimillion-peso contract that the PNP awarded to Werfast Documentation Agency Inc., a start-up courier service company, in 2011 for the delivery of licenses of gun owners.
The antigraft body also ordered the suspension without pay of 13 other PNP officials in connection with the purported sale of AK-47 assault rifles to the communist New People’s Army rebels in Mindanao.
Fees siphoned off
In its investigation, the Ombudsman’s Fact-finding Investigation Bureau said the erring PNP officials “siphoned off the mandatory delivery fees” the PNP Firearms and Explosives Office (FEO) collected from gun owners for the delivery of their gun licenses.
It said the PNP entered into a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with Werfast “despite its nonaccreditation and having been incorporated only after the execution of the MOA, with a capitalization of only P65,000.”
The Ombudsman said Bureau of Internal Revenue documents showed that the courier service firm did not pay any taxes from 2011 to 2013.
“As per records of the Department of Science and Technology–Postal Regulation Committee, Werfast is not accredited to engage in courier services in the country,” the Ombudsman said.
In addition, it said “there were no records to show that Werfast established an online facility for applications for renewal of firearms license.”
Since Werfast had no capability to deliver gun licenses nationwide, the Ombudsman found out that firm contracted the services of LBC and charged gun owners P190 for deliveries within Metro Manila and P290 in the provinces.
It said LBC was charging its clients only P90 for the service.
“Based on FEO records, 90,455 firearms license cards were issued for delivery from March 2013 to March 2014,” the Ombudsman said.
Purisima was out of the country when the Office of the Ombudsman announced his suspension and that of nine other police officials on Thursday. The PNP chief left on Dec. 3 and is scheduled to return on Dec. 9.
“The government shall abide by the decision of the Ombudsman pertaining to the administrative case against Police Director General Alan Purisima and other senior PNP officials,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said.
President Aquino has defended Purisima from various corruption allegations made against him, saying he has never seen the PNP chief “live luxuriously.”
The President and Purisima are known to be good friends, meeting each other during the presidency of Mr. Aquino’s late mother, democracy icon Corazon Aquino. Purisima, military Academy Class 1981, was a member of the Presidential Security Group (PSG).
Asked how Purisima’s suspension reflects on the President’s daang matuwid (straight path) anticorruption policy, Coloma said: “The concept of daang matuwid is to implement the law and I had just said, our government follows the implementation of the law.”
Purisima in Saudi
PNP spokesperson Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor said the office of the PNP chief received a notice of the preventive suspension against Purisima, but said he was not privy to its contents.
“The PNP chief is in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on official business. He is meeting with law enforcement officials to enhance cooperation against transnational crimes,” he said.
Asked if the suspension of Purisima and the retirement of Rojas might create a vacuum in the PNP hierarchy, Mayor said: “We leave that up to the higher-ups.”
Mayor said no one was appointed acting PNP chief or officer in charge while Purisima was away.
Third in line
Likewise, no one had been officially appointed as of Thursday to replace Rojas. His replacement is expected to be announced during the retirement honors for him.
The third in line in the PNP hierarchy is Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, who is the deputy chief for operations. Next in line is Deputy Director General Marcelo Garbo Jr., the chief directorial staff.
Senior Supt. Robert Po, Purisima’s own spokesperson, said it would be Interior Secretary Mar Roxas who would be in charge of serving the Ombudsman’s order and the appointment of an officer in charge or acting PNP chief.
“We will wait for the official service of order from the Ombudsman. By then there may be an appointment from the interior secretary,” Po said.
In a statement sent to reporters, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda relayed a message from Roxas who said that he had yet to see the suspension order from the Ombudsman, thus he would withhold any comment.
Mar Roxas as PNP head
Roxas gave the assurance that despite Purisima’s suspension, the PNP would continue with its law and order functions.
“The PNP is likewise focused on its disaster preparedness preparations for the impending arrival of Typhoon “Ruby” (international name: Hagupit). Accordingly, the PNP is on heightened alert and all leaves have been canceled in the expected affected areas,” Roxas said.
Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. is urging Roxas to take over the helm of the PNP.
“The preventive suspension of the 15 top PNP officials will certainly affect the image of the PNP and to a certain extent the morale of the policemen. But with the leadership of Secretary Mar Roxas, the PNP should be able to continue its functions,” Tupas said in a text message to the Inquirer.
‘Chief in waiting’
Besides Purisima, also suspended was Chief Supt. Raul Petrasanta, the Central Luzon police director and believed to be the PNP “chief in waiting.”
Petrasanta, who belongs to PMA Class 1984, was slapped with two separate six-month suspensions for his role as former head of the PNP-FEO when the contract was awarded to Werfast and for the alleged sale of high-powered firearms to the communist insurgents.
Like Purisima, he was a former member of the PSG and headed the protective security unit assigned at the residence of the Aquinos on Times Street in Quezon City.
Assistant Ombudsman Asryman Rafanan said it was up to Roxas to implement the suspension orders of the high-ranking PNP officers.
“Upon receipt of the order, the DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government) would have to immediately implement it. Under the law, (Roxas) has five days to submit a compliance report,” Rafanan said in a news briefing at the Ombudsman’s office in Quezon City.
Aside from Petrasanta, ordered suspended for the case involving the sale of AK-47s were Chief Supt. Regino Catiis, Senior Superintendents Eduardo Acierto and Allan Parreño, Supt. Nelson Bautista, and Chief Inspectors Ricky Sumalde, Ricardo Zapata Jr. and Rodrigo Benedicto Sarmiento.
Also suspended from office were Senior Police Officers 1 Eric Tan and Randy de Sesto, and civilian employees Nora Pirote, Sol Bargan and Enrique dela Cruz.
Prejudicial to case
In the Werfast case, also suspended for six months with Petrasanta and Purisima were retired Directors Gil Meneses and Napoleon Estilles, Parreño, Acierto, Senior Superintendents Melchor Reyes and Lenbell Fabia, Supt. Sonia Calixto, and Chief Inspectors Ford Tuazon, Bautista and Zapata.
As for the case on the sale of AK-47s, the Ombudsman said the investigation conducted by the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group showed that “private security agencies and a mining company successfully applied and were issued firearms licenses by the PNP using falsified and incomplete documentary requirements.”
It said licenses were issued to 1,004 firearms using “incomplete and/or falsified applications” presented by businessman Isidro Lozada, owner of Caraga Security Agency.
Lozada, who admitted to facilitating the anomalous firearms deal, bought the guns from Twin Pines Inc., a PNP-accredited firearms importer and trader.
“Despite irregularities in the applications, (the gun) licenses were processed and approved by PNP-FEO officials and personnel,” the Ombudsman said.
Added Morales: “(T)he bulk of material evidence in the custody of the PNP, and given the power and authority attached to the respondents’ positions, there is strong probability that they may influence witnesses or tamper with any evidence material to the case.”
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