POSTSCRIPT / August 27, 2017 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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Bad leadership hurts good cops

SA TOTOO lang, karamihan ng mga pulis matitino. After decades of newspapering, mostly pounding the beat, I dare say that most policemen are good officers actuated by their duty to serve and protect the people.

The key problem of the police, it seems, is bad leadership. Uniformed men are trained to follow orders almost by reflex, which should be the case in tight, fast-moving situations. An order need not always be in black and white, although this is preferred, but a mere hint of what a trusted leader wants done is done by his men.

It is in this undefined gray area where the ill effects of bad leadership manifest themselves. Although properly briefed, the men on the spot may not have much time to reflect and will go by instinct and reflexes honed by training. Miscalculations can be costly.

An entirely different scenario is if the men were told in advance to shoot and kill (not just to maim or disable) with the least resistance of the targets, or if they have been given the impression that the team has a kill-quota to meet.

Was this the case in the recent “One Time-Big Time” raids that scored a staggering number of dead drug suspects? The possibility of excessive force having been used is something that an impartial investigation will have to find out

Nobody on either side wants to get hurt or killed in a raid, but some persons still end up being shot. And, belatedly, some lawmen are surprised to find themselves now on the carpet for following orders or obeying their conditioned reflexes to shoot.

Some policemen seem to have started to think, especially after the gunning down of the Albuera mayor in his detention cell last Nov. 5, that they will be protected, even rewarded, if they kill in the name of President Duterte’s anti-narcotics campaign.

But it is turning out, after the last raid in Caloocan where 17-year-old Kian delos Santos was shot dead, that when the air gets too hot, their lord and protector himself will order the prosecution of those who get careless with their supposed license to kill.

Whereas the President used to tell policemen they have his unqualified support, to shoot those who fight back or to make them fight back if they don’t, that a pardon awaits them, et cetera, now he is suddenly conscious of the law. He now qualifies his confusing order to shoot:

“In the performance of your duty, which means that everything has to be legal. I will protect you, kayong mga pulis. Trabaho lang kayo. At kung lumaban, basta in the performance of duty, ’yun na ’yun. Just for three minutes. Pardon me for saying it, but ang pulis kasi is ’yunginterface niya sa tao. But I don’t know hindi ako – basta ito.”

If you ask me and the next policeman you meet, the rules of engagement as the President now attempts to define them off the cuff are not clear. So now, the men are probably asking: Ano ba talaga, ser?

• Will a divided nation allow Take-2?

A HINT of where the spilling of blood is headed is an admission by President Duterte in Marawi on Thursday that he won’t be able to lick the drug menace until the end of his term in 2022. (It was actually a reiteration of a similar confession made days ago.)

What this means, at first glance, is that there would be a rethinking of his anti-narcotics campaign and related activities. As the GPS Talking Lady says when one makes a wrong turn, “Recalculating.”

Or is Mr. Duterte hinting that he wants the Constitution changed to allow him to stay beyond his six-year term? This requires a Take-2, an entirely different political recalculating – and probably a realignment of forces. Or an upheaval.

As quoted by Star reporter Edith Regalado, the President said: “Nangako ako that I will do away with the shabu. Ngayon, alam ko na na hindi ito matutupad, na hindi talaga matapos ‘to”. (I promised that I’ll do away with shabu. Now I know it won’t be fulfilled, that this really will not end).

That he promised to pursue the anti-narcotics campaign despite the odds points to a calculated recalculation, a reprogramming. But note the other message superimposed on Mr. Duterte’s admission of the likely failure of his touted drug drive:

“Let us try to create a country that is – huwag naman ‘yung mayaman na tayo lahat (not where all of us are rich) – a country that is comfortable. May five years pa ako. Give me a chance to work ulit.

“Pretend that I am doing well. Just give me the remaining years. Five years pa naman. And we will build a strong country and a strong armed forces and police.”

To many of us watchdogs in mainstream media, giving the President more time to finish the job is not much of a problem. He should reach out instead to the victims of injustice and the uneven application of the law, and console the families of innocent victims of state terrorism.

Maybe he should also tell his communications managers to rein in their army of bloggers and disable their unthinking bots. The unabated Battle of the Blogs only fuels animosity and disunity. Nobody wins, except those paid – by us taxpayers! — for scattering false news and ad hominem.

If President Duterte cannot bind the wounds and unite the citizenry – while also busy tackling foreign relations issues – he will fail, as he has started to sense, not only in his drug drive but also in other things he has set out to do without a road map and a compass.

The big problem is that Mr. Duterte’s failure will be the failure of all of us. Damay tayong lahat!

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 27, 2017)

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