The Police and Philippine Presidency

The Police and Philippine Presidency

Special Feature

By Tracy Cabrera

THERE are very few topics in today’s political climate that are as controversial as “appointing a new chief for the national police force,” but unknown to most, this has an impact in the presidency as it upholds the policy of political patronage that causes the appointment or hiring of a person to a government post on the basis of partisan loyalty.

It is a fact that elected officials at the national, state and local levels of government often use such appointments to reward the people who help them win and maintain office. This practice led to the saying, “to the victor go the spoils.”

When politicians use the patronage system to fire their political opponents, those fired may charge that the practice penalizes them for exercising their First Amendment rights of political association.

But political patronage has existed ever since the Philippines gained its independence. In Article 2, the Constitution delegates powers of appointment to the president; this allows the chief executive to appoint a vast number of U.S. officials, including judges, ambassadors, cabinet officers and agency heads, military officers, and other high-ranking members of government.

The president’s appointment powers are checked by the Senate’s confirmation powers. This system is copied from constitution and local charters of the United States of America.

Proponents of the system argued that political patronage promoted direct accountability from administrators to elected officials. They also perceived it as a means for diminishing elitism at all levels of government by allowing commoners to occupy key posts. In this our presidents have used patronage extensively.

As the sixteenth president of the Republic, former Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte has sought to bring the government closer to the people and make it more representative.

During this era of reform and ‘Dutertean Democracy,’ the spoils system flourished by using political patronage to reward jobs to the partisan faithful. Duterte has time and again argued that any government that aspires truly to serve the people will appoint and rotate its staff rather than create a permanent bureaucracy in which civil servants view their positions as property.

This practice has become the norm of the Duterte administration.

In this regard, the entire organization of the PNP, with its more than 200,000-strong able bodied men-in-uniform, has an influencing factor to the country’s leadership as seen in the presidencies of the late Corazon Aquino, Fidel Valdez Ramos, Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada, Benigno Simeon Aquino III and now Duterte, and even way back during the Marcos Era.

The most important administrative aspect of the Duterte presidency is not its formal management reform agenda, but its attempt to extend the politicized presidency through the police and the military.

Efforts to assert tighter political control of the bureaucracy, revived during the Estrada administration, were pursued to an extreme.

Loyalty triumphed over competence in selection, and political goals displaced rationality in decision making. However, the strategy of politicization has undermined the administration’s own policy goals as well as its broader agenda to restore the strength of a constitutional presidency.

This apparent failure of strategy signals the urgent necessity for a fundamental reconsideration of the politicized presidency.

However, with the backing of both the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Duterte has earned the highest appreciation rating of any Philippine president.

In this, with the police in its task as an armed force that is somehow civilian in nature, the PNP has served well in Duterte’s leadership agenda, particularly that which focused in his campaign against criminality.

However, there are legitimate questions about proper scope of policing and the debate around the capabilities of appointed officials of the police organization has overshadowed other proposals for police reform, which is unfortunate because the problem of police abuses is likely going to require a multi-prong approach.

Analysts have pointed out the fact that some high-ranking officials in the PNP may only serve short terms in office since by the time they are selected for a position like the PNP Chief, they are near retirement already—so how can they possibly make a mark in the course of things when they hardly have the time to formulate, execute and assess their policies in the PNP hierarchy?

In the United States, the most important test that a police officer has to take in order to be accepted into the police academy is called the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory test.

Retired Police Captain Ray Lewis, who became famous for participating in the Occupy Wall Street protests in full uniform, says that police departments will weed out people who score too high on sensitivity because police chiefs think that being a cop is tough and that it takes a tough guy to do it. “Social worker wimps” will end up quitting, and so the time and money invested in those officers will go to waste.

In response, Lewis claims that such a strategy is actually not cost-effective, because insensitive cops are more likely to be brutal, and so are more likely to attract multi-million-dollar lawsuits. So, his suggestion is that police departments should not weed out people who score high on sensitivity.

Former Police Chief Isaiah McKinnon and Major David Hughes suggests: require higher aptitude and fitness standards for incoming recruits; require regular mental health checkups to deal with the stress and challenges of law enforcement; develop a nationwide database of all officers to prevent bad officers from jumping departments to avoid marks on their permanent record; and stop promoting officers to become supervisors who have multiple disciplinary complaints, particularly, to positions of first-line leaders like sergeants and lieutenants.

The probationary period for police officers should also be increased to a minimum of three years. Currently, once an officer has completed his probationary period, it is almost impossible to fire him.

Performance evaluations must focus on more than the number of arrests made or traffic tickets written. They should include the officer’s conviction rate, a thorough review of the types of arrests made and the number of complaints received.

We should hire police officers that reflect the communities they serve, by race and gender.

Localities should also have the right to enact police residency requirements and give people a say in who polices their community.

Finally, we’d like to draw attention to an article at The Atlantic that was co-authored by three people, one of them being Jeffrey Noble, a former Deputy Chief of Police at the Irvine Police Department. I’m only going to include excerpts of some of the proposals, so I encourage the readers to read the full article.

Get rid of qualified immunity. Qualified immunity is a judicial doctrine that protects officers who violate someone’s constitutional rights from civil-rights lawsuits unless the officers’ actions were clearly established as unconstitutional at the time.

The problem is that the Court has taken an inappropriately narrow view of what it means for a constitutional violation to be “clearly established.”

Essentially, a constitutional violation is clear only if a court in the relevant jurisdiction has previously concluded that very similar police conduct occurring under very similar circumstances was unconstitutional.

Pass legislation to further encourage better data collection about what police do and how they do it. For example, no one really knows how often police use force, why force was used, whether it was justified, or under what circumstances it is effective.

Dedicate significantly more resources to supporting police training, local policy initiatives, and administrative reviews. Police agencies around the country regularly fail to meet what are generally recognized as minimum standards for use-of-force and arrest training, frontline supervision, and internal investigations.

States can rethink their approach to criminalization. “Over criminalization” has been broadly discussed; there are so many laws that violations are ubiquitous. If everyone is a criminal, officers have almost unfettered discretion to pick and choose which laws to enforce and whom to stop, frisk, search, or arrest.

And, as the saying goes, when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

Police agencies also need to be much more transparent in the aftermath of high-profile incidents.

Although certain information, such as body-worn-camera footage, may need to be withheld for a certain period to avoid contaminating crucial witness interviews, there is no legitimate justification for denying public access for months or years.

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