Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa is perhaps in his most precarious position to date. News recently came out that a Korean businessman, Jee Ick Joo, was found dead within Camp Crame, after being kidnapped from his home.
Talk about this being a lucky break for President Rodrigo Duterte’s critics, in particular, those who criticize his campaign against crime and drugs. For the longest time, these critics, while showing concern about apparent abuses of police authority, and the lack of consideration for criminals’ rights, could not really gain any traction, or sympathy, from the public. Not even the hard numbers, several thousand dead, could convince the masses – they are only too happy to see perceived drug addicts and runners gone – that Duterte’s drive is wrong, unnecessary, or excessive.
However, that a foreign national could not be kept alive, much less protected – inside police headquarters no less – is a rather harsh indictment of this campaign against crime. To be fair, however, Bato and Duterte, from the start, have faced an uphill battle: the odds have always been against them, not only because both narcotics and crime have protectors among the government and public officials, but also because they also have to deal with institutionalized corruption and depravity within the police’s own ranks.
Normally, when embarrassing failures like this come to the surface, Filipinos are wont to demand the resignation of the erring official. It follows, then, that Bato should resign, if only to demonstrate that Duterte’s administration truly is different – that major lapses, even among Duterte’s closest aides, are not condoned.
Practicality, however, must reign in any case, and the practical question to ask is: if Bato were to resign, who would replace him? Whom else does, or can, Duterte trust to carry out his anti-crime and anti-drug campaign?
Unfortunately, one of two weaknesses – a fundamental one of Duterte’s administration, in fact – has become inexcusable. The force of personality alone, especially with both Duterte and Bato, is not enough to bring about change. Campaigns that live on the force of the personality at the helm, also get weakened, and die, by that very same personality. Bato dela Rosa can be given the benefit of the doubt as to the sincerity in his desire to clean up the ranks of the PNP. However, he is perceived as doing too much public relations work, and being too much of a goofball in front of the media, when it is perhaps more desirable that he be stoic, less on media, and more focused on the anti-crime drive. This perceived lack of seriousness, and inability to shut his mouth when in the hot seat, is now turning him into perhaps the greatest liability of the Duterte campaign against crime. Perhaps it is an over-compensation on Bato’s part, for seemingly being Peter-principled into the position of PNP chief.
The other weakness, of course, should already be obvious: the instrument Duterte uses to carry out his campaign is its own worst enemy. Manila Times columnist Ben Kritz could not have said it any better.
Do we need to reevaluate the need for delicadeza in this particular case? Maybe Bato should be given a chance to redeem himself, and to show that he is deserving of the rank, by allowing him to catch all those responsible for the death of the South Korean. But no longer can Bato enjoy the confidence of the public, even among Duterte’s most ardent supporters, after this blunder. It is clear that the forcefulness of both Duterte’s and Bato’s personalities alone is not enough to whip the PNP into shape.
To cry foul, that Duterte’s enemies are inserting political color into this incident, is an invalid excuse. Of course Duterte’s enemies will do everything to win; their way of life is at stake. The enemy will go after your perceived weakness in order to diminish your ability and resolve to fight. That’s what war is; only the most resolved and strongest survive.
If Duterte and Bato can’t figure out how to compensate for their weaknesses, and how to stay focused on their end goal – to win the war against crime, then perhaps they do need to be replaced by those who can. Duterte and Bato need to show all Filipinos that they can break the cycle enshrined in this adage: “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
It will not be easy.
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