By Alex Y. Vergara
Images by Noel b. Pabalate
The National Police Commission (NAPOLCOM), the administrative body in charge of running the Philippine National Police (PNP), celebrates its 50th year on September 8 with renewed energy and optimism regarding the state of the country’s 170,000-strong police force and the important and indispensable role it plays in enforcing the law, protecting citizens from lawless elements, and helping win President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on criminality and the proliferation of illegal drugs in the Philippines.
Under the leadership of NAPOLCOM Commissioner and Vice Chair Rogelio Casurao, who assumed the post last March, the police commission proceeds apace with its priority to ensure a “competent, well-trained, well-equipped, and well-compensated” police force.Casurao, a lawyer by profession, reports directly to the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Ismael Sueno, concurrent chair of NAPOLCOM. In terms of programs and policies, NAPOLCOM is attached to the DILG. Both government bodies hold office at the DILG NAPOLCOM Center on Epifanio de los Santos Avenue and Quezon Avenue in Quezon City.
Under the law, Casurao and fellow Commissioners Zenonida Brosas, Felizardo Serapio Jr., and Job Mangente, who were all appointed earlier this year, will serve for the next six years. As NAPOLCOM vice chair, Casurao, a former seminarian and the son of a retired policeman from Western Samar, is the first among equals in a collegial body running the country’s police commission. He may not have a military background, but Casurao spent a good deal of his younger years lawyering, mostly pro bono, for policemen in his province. One of his five siblings is also a policeman.
“NAPOLCOM has a very beautiful arrangement,” said Casurao, also a former city councillor of Calbayog, who admits to having a soft spot for the law enforcement profession because of his father. “For one, the law requires that at least one of its commissioners should be a woman. The other requirement is one should come from the law enforcement agency. Commissioner Serapio is a retired PNP general.”
Apart from fostering professionalism among PNP ranks and ensuring that competence and outstanding work is rewarded with a viable and fitting career path, NAPOLCOM also tries to envision what the PNP would be like 10 years from now. Under their watch, Casurao and his fellow commissioners want the PNP to keep in step with rapid changes within and beyond the country’s borders.
“Crimes have evolved over the years,” he said. “Crimes used to be mainly territorial before. Now, we also have to deal with transnational crimes, which are mostly cyber related—from cyber theft to cyber pornography. Then we also have to address the clear and present danger posed by terrorism.”
Based on surveys, the PNP, admittedly, has a lower “acceptance rate” among Filipinos compared to other government agencies due to a number of reasons, said Casurao. The primary reason, which he’s intent on addressing during his watch, is a general lack of understanding within the community of “what the PNP is all about.” Most ordinary citizens view it as a group of armed men and women whose main task is to apprehend people. Such a rather limited view of what the police force does is bound to create unfavorable stereotypes in the nation’s collective consciousness. Then there’s also the influence of media to consider. The soft-spoken Casurao didn’t blame journalists for PNP’s dismal approval ratings, but he echoed what many in the police force feel.
When Casurao was one of the judges of the annual Ten Outstanding Policemen of the Philippines, for instance, he used to ask finalists a recurring question: What do you think accounts for the PNP’s bad image and low acceptance among people it is supposed to serve? Not a few of the finalists, he said, laid the blame on media for always zeroing in on the organization’s “downside.” He’s the first to admit though that there shouldn’t be a downside in a supposedly model organization dependent on the public’s trust.
“That’s what we’re trying to achieve for the PNP at NAPOLCOM,” Casurao said. “We came up, for instance, with a ‘patrol plan’ for the PNP, which has set a list of targets to produce a more competent and reliable police force.”
Hand in hand with these developments is NAPOLCOM’s own “Transformation Plan 2020,” a revitalized blueprint of sorts designed to help the commission to level up and keep in step with the PNP. After all, NAPOLCOM was created to serve the PNP. Without the PNP, there would be no NAPOLCOM.
Further training and continuous reassessment of PNP’s 170,000-strong personnel fall mostly under the purview of NAPOLCOM’s regional offices. Casurao debunks lingering impressions of palakasan in NAPOLCOM’s recruitment and vetting process. The hiring and training, for instance, of new recruits—mostly graduates of a four-year criminology course—follows a stringent set of procedures. Once an applicant gets accepted, he or she has to pass through a standard training program conducted in various regions to earn the rank of PO1 (police officer 1, the first of 11 ranks a police officer has to hurdle to become the PNP chief) and patrol the streets.
“Gone are the days when young people enter the police force for lack of anything better to do. Mag-puliskanalangdoesn’t work anymore. Today’s successful recruits have to do a lot, know a lot, and are expected to do a lot,” said Casurao.
He didn’t deny the existence of bad eggs in the service. But whether these scalawags deserve to get demoted or kicked out from the police force depends on due process and rule of law. As the PNP’s administrative body, NAPOLCOM is also in charge of the difficult and unenviable task of evaluating three active-duty PNP generals Duterte publicly accused of being allegedly involved in the illegal drug trade. But no matter who gets hurt, NAPOLCOM won’t shirk in the performance of its sworn duty, said Casurao.
As NAPOLCOM tries to evaluate their complicity regarding their alleged involvement in illegal drugs, the generals have been temporarily relieved of their duties. Once results of the evaluation are in, they will be forwarded directly to NAPOLCOM’s administrative machinery for one final evaluation. This last hurdle will determine whether they should be retained or dismissed from the service.
“We’re expecting the results of the evaluation anytime soon,” said Casurao. “They were named publicly, but they are being given the chance to defend themselves. That’s the reason President Duterte directed the NAPOLCOM to conduct the investigation. It gives every respondent in this case a chance to air his side.”
Ordinarily, decisions/resolutions by the NAPOLCOM in administrative proceedings against the police are immediately executory sans the timely filing of a motion for reconsideration. In the case of the three generals, however, the decision/resolution of the NAPOLCOM takes the nature of a “recommendation” to be submitted to the Office of the President for confirmation or modification before it is implemented, following the principle in administrative law that the power to hire carries with it the power to fire (the promotion of policemen to the rank of Police Senior Superintendent and up is done by no less than the President himself).Since NAPOLCOM’s function is purely administrative, it can only recommend the demotion or removal of a supposedly guilty party, not jail time, which is the subject of a court proceeding.
The situation, he added, has “settled down” at PNP following last year’s Mamasapano incident in which 44 elite policemen from PNP’s Special Action Force lost their lives from hostile elements of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The incident happened before he and his fellow commissioners assumed office.
“It didn’t have much effect on NAPOLCOM because it was more of an operational incident directly under the PNP,” he said. “But the pain of losing the best in the police lingers. It also drove us to revisit some of our policies.”
NAPOLCOM also extended additional financial support to the spouses and children of those who died in active duty. This includes scholarships in elementary, high school, and college regardless of whether or not the beneficiaries are legal or illegitimate children of the deceased. NAPOLCOM waived the ruling, which used to limit scholarships to the slain policeman’s legitimate children.
It seems no question is too big or too controversial for Casurao to answer. Regarding Duterte’s current war on drugs, Casurao is thankful for such a move because he has seen up close the extent of the drug problem. “The drug problem is eating up Philippine society,” he said. “Deep in my heart, I’m really grateful that the current administration is undertaking this drive. Within a short period of time, I believe that the drug problem has been reduced. I’m hopeful that we will all see a drug-free society in less than six years.”
As for the alleged extra-judicial killings labeled by Duterte’s critics against members of the PNP, Casurao insists that these allegations are unwarranted and devoid of any solid evidence. On the flip side, he said, the pursuit of criminals that are directly involved in the drug business has found acceptanc among the public.
“The so-called big fish is not as visible as the smaller ones, who are in the frontline of this mess,” he continued. “But I’m quite positive that it’s only a matter of time before the long arm of the law catches them. President Duterte and each of the investigative body as well as the intelligence community are all busy in working along these lines.”
Despite these challenges, Casurao and the rest of NAPOLCOM have more reasons to smile these days. He takes pride, for instance, in the marked professionalism being exhibited by PNP officers who underwent further training at the Philippine National Police Academy in Silang, Cavite. The effort, he said, is beginning to bear fruit. It is hoped that such professionalism and renewed dedication would trickle down the PNP ranks.
Incidentally, the week leading up to NAPOLCOM’s anniversary is Crime Prevention Week. Casurao and his NAPOLCOM family will kick off celebrations as early as September 1. It will culminate on September 8 with a mass and awarding at the Philippine International Convention Center. The next day will be devoted to a cultural showdown at NAPOLCOM’s main office in Quezon City featuring 10 employees per region. NAPOLCOM will be handing out more awards such as PNP Model Families, Model Employees, and Loyalty Awards.
“On a personal note, I will strive to the best of my ability to inspire my fellow public servants in the police commission,” said Casurao. “I intend to see to it that all NAPOLCOM employees are imbued with the passion of serving the country through the PNP. My wish is to see a Philippine National Police that is regarded in high esteem by Filipinos, a policeman who is well respected by the citizenry, and able to prevent and solve criminality with the highest degree of competence. We need to foster peace and order through a professional and caring national police force to ensure that the country can move forward.”