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Dateline Seattle: Bato – The General

Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Ronald dela Rosa has a personality that is difficult to fathom. In fact, he continues to amaze me. Sometimes he appears to be someone who honestly wants to put an end to all forms of criminality. Sometimes I am not sure if he wants to be in show biz. One thing is sure – he loves being in the limelight. Be that as it may, the 352 policemen who had been reportedly sacked by dela Rosa for various offenses – 167 for drug related crimes and 155 for kidnapping, murder, extortion, and other offenses – could be the result of his determination to clean the police force of scalawags. I give him credit for this. Three hundred fifty-two police officers dismissed from 2016-2017 may not be the number the public is comfortable with, given the reported abuses of so many police officers, but it is an achievement just the same. It is a good beginning. Dela Rosa, nicknamed Bato (stone) probably because of his big physique and broad shoulders, projects an image of being tough. And probably he is. But he can also be a cry baby. There were times in the past that he could not control his emotions. I remember him breaking down during a Senate hearing, asserting that there was no policy to kill innocent civilians in the government’s campaign against drugs. In another Senate hearing late last year, Bato again broke down in tears over the loss of public trust in the efforts of the police to fight illegal drugs, as thousands of alleged drug users, the majority of whom are poor, have been killed by the police. In both hearings, Bato was filled with emotions, his facial expression and tone communicated something that was more impactful than the words he used. He strikes me as someone with high emotional IQ. He is human after all. Let me give him the benefit of the doubt that during those Senate hearings he was telling the truth. Emotions, after all, cannot lie; they generally reflect what a person really feels inside. Perhaps because of his background – Wikipedia describes Bato’s family as “dirt poor” and his father a tricycle driver – there’s probably a place in his heart for sympathy toward victims of crimes and police brutality who are mostly poor people. Yet there are also times that Bato is out of line. Sometimes he appears to be acting as a personal defender of a volatile President Rodrigo Duterte, rather than the defender of a wounded nation. He needs to be reminded that his duty is to serve the people and not Duterte. Recently Bato announced that he would not allow the critics of the government to bring it down. Unconfirmed rumors of alleged destabilization plot by Duterte’s political opponents and the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) preliminary investigation into Duterte’s alleged crimes against humanity that resulted from his war on illegal drugs seemed to have triggered Bato’s outburst. «You want to bring down the Duterte administration? Over my dead body. Giyera tayo (Let›s go to war),» he said. «Hinahamon ko kayo, giyera tayo. Gusto ninyo ng kudeta? Mag kudeta tayo, giyera tayo. Huwag nyo akong takutin.» (I am challenging you, let›s go to war. You want to stage a coup? Go ahead stage a coup, let›s go to war. Do not threaten me.) Continued Bato, «Manigas sila. Hindi nila kayang ibagsak ‹yung presidente na elected by the people and ang trust rating is 83%.» (They cannot bring down a president elected by the people and one whose trust rating is 83%). Bato, a likeable police officer when in front of TV cameras because of his cool demeanor, transforms himself into a fierce warrior when Duterte is criticized. He has yet to learn how to distance himself from Duterte especially in policy matters. His problem is he personalizes any criticisms hurled at Duterte. He appears to consider any political attacks on Duterte also a personal attack on him or on the police institution. Thus, he reacts as if he is a personal bodyguard of the president, willing to defend him at whatever cost. True, he was a Duterte appointee. But he is intelligent enough to realize that his position as head of the police transcends any personal loyalty to anyone. Meanwhile, we have suspected drug users still being killed by the police. We have a president who wants an all-out war, instead of peace negotiation, against the insurgents. We have some journalists who suspect they are being watched by the police. Illegal gambling remains unabated in some places. We have politicians masquerading as men and women of integrity but should be in jail. And we have a General Bato who has politicized the institution he has sworn to guide along the right path. The question that I often ask myself is: Does Bato have an understanding of the honor needed to serve not the president who appointed him, but all Filipinos, pro-Duterte and anti-Duterte, who expect him to be neutral and fair?

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