Remember that sick joke about how fast the cops arrived at a crime scene? Cops in other countries were said to arrive in just a few minutes. But Pinoy police were said to be at the scene of the crime at the moment it was being committed.
That’s the bad news. The worse news is that rogue cops are not unique to the Philippines. Even the so-called “ninja cops” that have been hogging the Manila headlines are unique only in terms of the cinematic nickname given them by the media. Drug-dealing policemen — specifically, cops who do a drug bust and then turn around and sell the drugs — are not a Pinoy innovation. They do it all over the world.
Remember the movie, The French Connection?
A Wikipedia entry tells about a French police officer whose business operation PNP General Oscar Albayalde would find familiar:
“François Stuber was a police captain and Deputy Head of the Drug Squad in Strasbourg, France. One of Stuber’s duties was to destroy drugs seized from operations; however between 2003 and 2007, the officer instead traded narcotics including marijuana, heroin and cocaine to an established drug network. In addition to this, Stuber also imported drugs from various other networks. The former captain had an intimate relationship with a worker from the local court, Laurence Hamon, where they would use court information to ensure his drug network associates were not under investigation. This method was also employed to avoid tracing mechanisms imposed by the Inspection Generale de la Police Nationale to detect any abuse of information. Stuber worked closely with Laurence, using her residence to store the seized drugs and her banking accounts to launder money. Stuber was jailed for the maximum term of 10 years.”
European police departments, particularly those in Eastern Europe, are notorious for rouge cops. Even Scotland Yard, with which Pinoys are familiar because of Sherlock Holmes, has not been spared. Wikipedia also posted this entry: “In the UK, an internal investigation in 2002 into the largest police force, the Metropolitan Police, Operation Tiberius found that the force was so corrupt that ‘organized criminals were able to infiltrate Scotland Yard at will’ by bribing corrupt officers… and that Britain’s biggest force experienced ‘endemic corruption’ at the time.”
The celebrated story of New York plainclothesman Frank Serpico is best remembered because of the portrayal of his crusade by Hollywood star, Al Pacino, in the movie Serpico. The cop exposed the corruption at the Brooklyn North Police precinct. He was shot during a drug bust but lived to tell his tale.
Does all of that make us feel any better? Well, only in the sense that misery loves company. Pinoy policemen are not the only scumbags. In fact, they are not the worst scumbags. Politicians and drug lords probably outrank them in the karera ng korap (corrupt race).
There’s more good news of sorts. The headlines tell us that some of the ninja cops and their bosses are actually being exposed. By politicians, no less! Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.
But that is small comfort. As I pointed out in an earlier column, corruption is as old as Adam and Eve. While well-meaning and heroic citizens must continue to expose and combat corruption — and resist being corrupted themselves — this is a scourge that is unlikely to be eliminated, no matter how hard crusaders try.
The police authorities on whom we depend for protection are as likely to be charmed by snakes and corrupted. That leaves us no choice but to regard authorities with caution and to prepare ourselves for the worst, the better to defend ourselves.
It’s pretty much like going to Rome, one of the most visited tourist places in the world. Upon arriving at the airport, you are immediately warned to beware of pickpockets (on my last visit there, I forgot the warning and lost my wallet).
Having said that, here’s something that should truly alarm us. Ninja cops are bad enough because they make President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war against drugs” a big joke. But what is worse is that the bigtime police scumbags have encouraged other rogue cops to prey on unwary and vulnerable citizens.
Remember the tanim bala (planting a bullet) epidemic that made the airports a hazardous place? Well, this Facebook post shared by my friend Divina Valencia Quesada (yes, the movie star) is even more scary:
“From an Ateneo Messenger group: On my way home today at around 8:15 p.m., as soon as I took a right turn from Star Gate towards Old Terminal, a policeman signalled me to stop.
“As I stopped, he asked me to open the trunk of the car. I opened the trunk from inside and was about to step down, but the policeman said, ‘Ok you may go.’
“I started my car and started driving, but something struck my mind, as from my rear view mirror, I saw one of the policemen immediately on his phone.
“I went a bit ahead and finding a good road light stopped my car. Switching off the engine I went and opened my car trunk.
“Guess what… I was shocked to see two small ziplock pouches with white crystals inside. I was numbed but just decided to throw it away and thanked God for saving me from such rascals who would have caught me in a drug-related case.
“The policemen must have informed their comrade standing at the next checkpoint to get hold of so-and-so car number.
“I was correct in my guess. Approximately half a mile later I was stopped by another policeman. This time too I was asked to open my trunk.
“Now I got down, went behind and opened the trunk physically. I’m sure they must have been puzzled and surprised that they did not find anything.
“Please don’t open your car trunk from the inside, for anyone, even at malls. Always step down and open the trunk with keys and permit searching under your own supervision.
“Kindly share this as much as you can, to save people.”
That warning about not leaving security guards at malls to open the trunk of cars on their own makes sense, but is too much of a hassle. Frankly, we should be thankful that the way these security guards “check” our vehicles is so perfunctory that a terrorist could bring in a load of explosives without being detected.
They could do worse. Not just tanim bala but tanim drugs!
Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.