Sunday, February 27, 2005

Will the next PNP Chief be a friend of an alleged drug lord and an enemy of civil liberties?

Last week, the Manila Times ran a story on who might be the next chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP). Avelino "Sonny" Razon was named as one of those who might get the appointment.

What do we know about him? From my only encounter with Razon as a policeman, he doesn't seem to have respect for the Philippine Constitution. That's the same Constitution we came up with in 1987 where we required our Philippine National Police to be "civilian in character." That seems so matter-of-fact why would we have to put it in writing? Because we learned a painful lesson (and sometimes I wonder if we actually did) from Martial Law. Ferdinand Marcos "integrated" the old pre-Martial Law civilian police force into what was then the Philippine Constabulary or PC. In doing that, Marcos also integrated into the ertswhile civilian police force all the feelings that certain people in the PC had for human rights: hatred mostly (The perfect examples would be the late unlamented Rolando Abadilla and his then aide-de-camp a certain Lieutenant Panfilo Lacson. Their torturing exploits are chronicled here, the Supreme Court case of Aberca versus Ver.)

In their minds, they weren't going after criminal suspects who had to be charged and arrested. They were going after enemies in the battlefield who had to be "neutralized."

The PC was a military organization. The police, acting as part of the PC, were soldiers. In their minds, they weren't going after criminal suspects who had to be charged and arrested. They were going after enemies in the battlefield who had to be "neutralized."

"Neutralized," that cold-blooded euphemism, has stayed on in the police and military vocabulary. (When you-know-who worked at DND, he had to endure reading a lot of AFP sit-reps -- "Situation Reports," another military euphemism used to describe anything that might have violently gone wrong in the Philippines for the day. That covers just about everything. These sit-reps would invariably have the obligatory reference to the number of persons "neutralized" that day. That always made you-know-who wonder how many zombified citizens were therefore walking around the country "neutrally,"
never again to possess an opinion on anything.)

So we kicked out Marcos. And the PC is gone. But our luck ran out in '87: the PNP isn't a civilian organization. Many of its officers either don't know what 'civilian' means or, worse, don't agree that the PNP should be that. Many of these police officers went to the Philippine Military Academy during Martial Law wanting to become military, not civilian, officials.

And they did. They still behave like military officers in the PNP. They don't try to solve crimes, they combat it. They don't want to deter criminals; they "neutralize" them. Worse, not only do they behave like military officers; sometimes, they behave like military officers operating under Martial Law. The leadership of the PNP is still controlled by graduates of the PMA --Razon belongs to class 1974. Some of these men still wish they were in the military and can't seem to get out of the military madness that Martial Law wired into their heads. The 1987 Constitution is therefore just a straitjacket for that madness, and an apparently useless one if we go by the behaviour of the policeman who is our blog topic.

In March of 2001, with Joseph Estrada shamed into leaving office and young Filipinos flush with their role in shaming him out, members of several student organizations who had just turned 18 went to the COMELEC asking to be registered as new voters. The COMELEC said no, the period for new voters to register had come and apparently gone without that many new voters knowing that there was one to begin with. (Eventually, this issue reached the Supreme Court where you-know-who argued orally that the right to vote should prevail over the requirement of prior registration. The petitioners lost. Narrowly.)

These student organizations thought that the COMELEC was being too cavalier in simply saying "no." Organized by the party-list group Akbayan, they decided, in the very nice language of the Constitution, to "seek redress for their grievances" by camping out in front of the COMELEC's main office in Intramuros. They had tents. They put up a sound system.They opened a sign-up table for would-be voter-students, many from Manila's University Belt who had heard about the protest and who realized that they, too,wanted to register and vote in the then upcoming May elections. Being the organized, peaceful and law-abiding (and somewhat wimped-out) group that they were, they decided to apply for a permit from City Hall.

Guess who refused to sign on and give the permit? The PNP Chief for the Western Police District (WPD), the so-called "Manila's Finest,"General Avelino Razon. His reason: it was illegal, they shouldn't be there. (Now, why would it be illegal? Because it did not have a permit?)

Look, General: these young Filipinos weren't there to topple the government, burn down the COMELEC or attack the US Embassy. They simply wanted to be able to vote. How radical can that be? But Avelino Razon, the former PC officer and aide-de-camp of PC Chief Fidel Ramos, couldn't care less what the 1987 Constitution said. Maybe Razon didn't even know that we replaced what he might have liked in the old Marcos Constitution of his PC days, with something that is crystal-clear about what rights we have.

The camp-out at the COMELEC went on anyway under the threatening gaze of Razon's WPD agents. But that's not the end of the story: three days into the camp-out, the newly-sworn President -- Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo -- came over to Intramuros to talk to and support the protesting students.

What should worry us more is the company that Razon keeps: suspected drug lords. Remember Kim Wong? Avelino Razon hopes you don't.

Now, guess who went kandarapa and overdid himself in providing police cars, sending police escorts and organizing all kinds of police protection within the two blocks of Intramuros where the dialogue between the President and the camped-out students took place? Our man Avelino. The same policeman who, days earlier, had refused to sign a permit and dismissed the protest as illegal, was now claiming that he wanted to "protect" the protestors. What happened, Martial Law got lifted?

But blithely disregarding very basic things promised in our Constitution isn't the worst problem with Razon. What should worry us more is the company that Razon keeps: suspected drug lords. Remember Kim Wong? Avelino Razon hopes you don't. (Kim Wong and Razon are PMA "classmates" by the way. How did that happen? Read this.)