Rogue cops

By: Manuel “Boy” Mejorada

I HAVEN’T fully recovered from a bout of flu that hit me last weekend, but I forced myself to get out of bed and write this column about rogue cops after watching most of yesterday’s hearing of the Senate committee on justice and human rights. That’s because I see similarities in the style of the “ninja cops” who were caught faking a drug bust, letting the real drug suspect go away for a huge sum of money, and declare only a fraction of the shabu they had recovered with what has been happening in Iloilo.

Interestingly, the unit involved in the Pampanga incident in 2013 was also the provincial intelligence group there. The working habits of its Iloilo counterpart are not too far away. Although I am not prepared to say that the IPPO special operations group headed by P/Major Jonathan Pinuela is into the recycling of drugs, I have no doubts that their procedures – or breach of procedures – would elicit the same contempt and anger from the Senators.

The rogue cops of the IPPO turned themselves into a private army when they conducted checkpoints in the 4th and 5th districts to harass and intimidate political leaders of former 4th District Cong. Ferjenel G. Biron. As police officers, nobody can fault them for conducting checkpoints. But they blatantly ignored Comelec rules and regulations. And from the looks of it, their activities were not sanctioned by Comelec.

First and foremost, Comelec guidelines strictly provide for police or military personnel assigned to conduct checkpoints to be in full uniform, with their name tags visible. Second, the checkpoints must be established in well-lighted areas with a big billboard identifying it as a Comelec checkpoint prominently placed in the middle of the road. Third, Comelec personnel must be present.

All these three guidelines were violated by the IPPO-SOG under Pinuela in the final week before the elections as they stopped vehicles in areas known to be bailiwicks of Biron. Photographs that circulated on Facebook showed men wearing basketball shorts and t-shirts wielding high-powered weapons checking on the motorists who went by. The location of their checkpoints was in remote and dark areas. And, you guessed it right, there was no Comelec official present.

According to a source, their mission was to intercept money shipments intended for the last-minute political activities of Biron’s leaders. Any money that was discovered in the vehicles wasn’t going to be reported. In short, “hulidap”.

Pinuela was reported to have said over the radio that this manner of conducting checkpoints was allowed by Comelec. I dare him to execute an affidavit to that effect and furnish me with a copy.

Yesterday’s hearing talked about the deep-seated corruption that has afflicted the Philippine National Police that rose to the level of rogue cops like P/Major Rodney Raymund Baloyo to stage fake drug busts and report only a fraction of their haul, and then recycle the rest to drug syndicates.

Police operational procedures are put in place so that officers will conduct themselves properly and not violate the rights of other people. Credibility is important in police work. Hence, every aspect of what they do must stand up to the minutest scrutiny and not be found wanting in propriety.

And now it seems this habit of conducting checkpoints in civilian clothing has become the norm for the IPPO.

From what I heard about the murder of Adonis Hontiveros in Sara, Iloilo last week, the fatal gunshot wound that he got was fired by one of three policemen in civilian clothes. Pinuela has succeeded in planting his irregular, and corrupt, ways in other sectors of the IPPO.

Perhaps the new Provincial Director, P/Colonel Roland Vilela, should examine deeply why Pinuela is even there as SOG chief in the first place. It was also Pinuela’s unit that supposedly conducted a buy-bust operation against Sara, Iloilo Sangguniang Bayan (SB) Secretary James Balsomo. Balsomo was shot just moments after he stepped out of his office. Well, as the usual police storyline goes, the supposed target of the drug bust fired first. Unfortunately for the SOG, Balsomo survived and is likely to file criminal charges against its operatives.

Vilela has a tough mission in rebuilding the tattered image of the IPPO under his predecessor, P/Colonel Marlon Tayaba. He should not hold his punches back. Such was the lesson that we could derive from yesterday’s brave testimonies from the likes of former CIDG Chief Benjamin Magalong and former Police General and now PDEA chief Aaron Aquino.