PHILIPPINE National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr.’s announcement that so-called lifestyle checks will also be conducted on the organization’s more than 600 generals and colonels has worsened the demoralization of the country’s police force.
Dissatisfaction with the leadership of the PNP and its official superior, Interior Minister Benhur Abalos, prompted last week’s order by the top PNP official to submit “courtesy resignations” to ease the task of “cleansing the police” of its vermin.
A source close to the president’s chief legal adviser, Juan Ponce Enrile, who has extensive experience dealing with the police and military in his 14 years as martial law administrator, said the respected lawyer was extremely disturbed by the “courtesy resignation” order. the message he conveyed was to condemn the entire police force as corrupt, which would unsettle the police.
So controversial is this order that Azurin announced that a five-man board would decide which officers whose “courtesy resignations” would be accepted and therefore dismissed. “We will be subject to the whims of a five-man kangaroo court,” the police colonel noted.
Is the plan really that stupid or born out of ignorance because the PNP has a structure created by Republic Act 8551 or the “PNP Reform and Reorganization Act of 1988” to purge the police of its criminals. The law mandates the creation of an Internal Affairs Service with a nationwide organization directly reporting to the PNP chief to investigate complaints against the police and initiate its own investigations.
If Azurin or Abalos really want to clean up the PNP and are not just engaging in PR stunts – or if they are intelligent enough – they should have simply loaded up the IAS and staffed it with officers of impeccable integrity. Do they even know that IAS exists?
According to the saying that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”, Abalos and Azurin are dangerous officials. They read somewhere about “courtesy resignations” and “lifestyle checks” and without asking their employees to do a little research on them, immediately announced to the public that they would undertake such programs.
“Lifestyle checks”, known internationally as “lifestyle audits”, examine whether an official’s standard of living exceeds his income and, if so, is assumed to generate it from a graft. But even if proven, there is an entirely separate process of filing charges to prove that the irregularity is financed by corruption and not due to some other legitimate reason, such as the assets of the spouse.
However, based on the experience of more than a dozen nations that have undertaken such an anti-corruption campaign, a 2021 study by Transparency International concluded that “conducting comprehensive lifestyle audits—especially of large numbers of public officials—is often considered impractical and resource intensive for an anti-corruption agency .”
I know all too well the downsides of lifestyle checks. During President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s “first term” in 2001 (when she assumed the presidency after Joseph Estrada “left” his post), I, as Presidential Chief of Staff, ordered and supervised the “Transparency Group” that conducted lifestyle checks with a focus on the customs office and the public transport department.
In theory, lifestyle checks are a simple investigation that involves comparing the officer’s required statement of assets, liabilities and net worth to his actual net worth and how he lives, including where he lives, cars, hidden businesses, travels and the like. like whether he visits casinos.
In practice, it requires a lot of resources, and the results are not proportional to the effort.
An easy proof of corruption is an official’s bank deposits, which, however, are strictly confidential under the Bank Secrecy Act. Even with the recent anti-money laundering law, an official’s bank deposit statement can only be obtained with court approval when investigating such crimes as terrorism or large-scale money laundering operations.
It is a lengthy investigation to find out if there is a certain residence under his name, allegedly owned by an official, or even a car. The Land Registry Office does not release land ownership records to any person who requests it, nor would the Land Registry Office tell anyone who owns a particular car. Often, even such information is obtained by trickery, the skills of the investigator, who uses any means, including bribes, to obtain the necessary data.
In our project, which “checked the lifestyle” of only 10 officials, at the end of the day I calculated the costs of conducting a lifestyle check of a particular official to reach at least 2 million crowns. Does Azurin have two billion to finance the lifestyle control of 600 generals and colonels?
But he can only make a sample of, say, 50 officers, right? Yes, but that would open him up to charges of bias and discrimination. And what if he cleverly selects for his sample 50 cops who are known to be squeakers who would pass a lifestyle check, while those who are known to be corrupt – and this is usually known in the police community – will they laugh at him or claim they have Azurin on their payroll?
The dark side
Lifestyle checks also have their dark side. One of my employees who committed this threatened the customs officials that if they did not give him P500,000, they would be a “lifestyle check” of our office. The crook was able to get about P2 million through this scheme before he was caught when an official revealed that he had given him P500,000. The scalawag was such a fraud, I’m told he even managed to get a position in the Department of Defense under this administration. I have no doubt that will happen if Azurin continues with his lifestyle control project.
The only institutions to successfully carry out large-scale lifestyle checks were Singapore’s anti-corruption agency, which was the model for Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). However, it was established by law by the British colonial rulers in 1974 and was even reaffirmed in Hong Kong’s Basic Law, answerable only to the Governor and then the Chief Executive after the colony returned to China in 1997.
What was most important to ICAC’s success was the huge funding provided to it, approximately HK$1 billion (P7 billion) per year. This allowed the agency to have a huge staff of more than 1,200 employees, mostly investigators, with relatively high salaries to protect them from bribery. How many investigators can Azurin deploy, does he even have the budget to fund it?
I suspect that Azurin is simply trying to create a media image of someone with bold ideas with a view to being appointed to a high government post after his retirement in April.
Every month this administration surprises us with howling and unnecessary damage to its prestige.
It took 12 years until 1984 for the RAM rebel group to form – and during the global debt crisis that was disastrous for us and more importantly, massive US intervention – the army and police under Ferdinand E. Marcos were so demoralized. that a daring faction will try to overthrow him. Unless his son takes stock, admits his mistakes, changes his misrule, and fires the likes of Abalos and Azurin, it will only take 12 months, some say now, for the men in uniform to be so disaffected with his son. rule.
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