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On the first day of his presidency, during the turnover of command ceremoniesat the Philippine National Police (PNP) headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City, President Duterte boasted that he knows the scalawags in the police service.
He issued a strong warning: “I know kung sino ang mga general who are tainted with corruption. You better resign. You have no more future in the police.. I know how you operate.. I will not run this country with a corrupt police.”
In his seven months in office under his relentless drive against illegal drugs, there have been several reports of police abuses. Extra-judicial killings have become a daily occurrence.Impunity by members of the police has reached levels never imagined.
The latest was the killing of a South Korean official of Hanjin Shipping, a South Korean companylast October 17 after he was abducted from his residence in Angeles City allegedly bymembers of the PNP’s Anti-Illegal Drugs Group led bySPO3 Ricky Sta. Isabel.
The victim, Jee Ick-joo, was killed reportedly by strangulation in a vehicle parked a few meters away from the office of the PNP chief, Director General Ronald dela Rosa, in Camp Crame late in the evening.
One police officer was appalled by the boldness of Sta Isabel to bring the victim inside the police headquarters and commit the murder in the vicinity of the police chief’s office and residence.
But more puzzling and troubling is the lack of strong reaction from the President himself.
Of course, De la Rosa said the President was outraged.
Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella issued a statement, “"We are outraged by the abduction and slay of a South Korean executive inside Camp Crame. We assure everyone that there will be no whitewash or cover-up. We will not tolerate abusive, errant policemen who betray the organisation."
Abella also said that Malacanang apologized to the wife of Jee and to the Korean people.
But a reaction or remark from Duterte himself?
He has had public speaking engagements since the exposé on the role of police personnel in the murder of Jee, but so far he has not commented on it directly.
At the oathtaking of newly promoted PNP officers in Malacanang last Jan. 19, he spoke for almost 45 minutes about his favourite topic illegal drugs. He lambasted the “hypocrisy” of the church which has expressed concern about the unabated killings.
The only line that can be said to closely referring to the Jee murder was this: “ Hindi ako mag-ano, mayroon ding masasama, kagaya ng pulis na nag-kidnap, aba then they will.... Sabi ko nga, kayong mga nasa gobyerno, I don’t know about your officers, but if you ask me, you will suffer the same fate. You will suffer the same fate. “
At the birthday of de la Rosa last Jan. 22,he started his speech with a comment, “ Kung patanggal natin si Bato, ako at si Speaker wala dito.”
He was referring to demands for de la Rosa to resign led by House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez following Jee’s murder which many see as a breakdown of law enforcement.
Duterte also said “There are two ways of committing crime under the revised penal code. What is it? Felony, malice or negligence. From the looks of it wala akong nakitang criminal intent, really to, on the part of Dela Rosa and the rest of the officers. Sino ba naman ay may gustong gawin mo yan sa kampo mo? Wala e.”
He again assured the police force that he will them with everything that they need to do their job. “But you have to discipline your men,” he added.
Duterte’s mild reaction to the reported involvement of members of the police force in the Jee case followed his similar handling of the killing of Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa, Sr inside his jail in Baybay, Leyte by police team led by Police Supt. Marvin Marcos.
He even slammed the report of the National Bureau of Investigation that the police officers committed murder in the Espinosa case giving a lie to the arresting police officer’s version of self-defense.
For someone who won the presidency on the election promise of eradicating crime and is known for spewing expletives over unsubstantiated accusations, Duterte’s attitude towards police officers involved in crimes is puzzling.
On Thursday, Jan. 26, at the switch-on ceremony of a coal plant in Sarangani, made his strongestpublic reaction on Jee’s killing after apologizing for the murder, more than two weeks after the kidnapping of Jee was first reported.
“I’m very sorry for that sordid incident, but I can assure you, I will see to it. Better if they escape [from] prison. T*** i** kayong mga pulis. Bantay kayo. Hindi ko kayo papalusutin. You will suffer,Maybe I can send your heads to South Korea.”