Philippine govt asks top police officers to resign for drug probe

Aie Balagtas See
Philippine govt asks top police officers to resign for drug probe Philippine police prepare to impose a COVID-19 lockdown in the Sampaloc district in Manila, April 23, 2020.
Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

The Philippines’ interior secretary on Wednesday called for the voluntary resignations of all national police colonels and generals, saying illegal drug syndicates may have corrupted senior leaders of the force. 

About 300 officers hold those ranks, according to the Department of the Interior and Local Government, which oversees law enforcement across the country. Those cleared in an investigation will retain their posts, Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. said.

“I am calling on all full colonels up to generals, I am appealing for you to submit a courtesy resignation. I know this will surprise you, but this is the only way to make a fresh start,” Abalos said.

His statement, a rare direct admission from the government that corruption and drugs are entrenched in the halls of power, contrasts starkly with former President Rodrigo Duterte’s stance of protecting those in uniform even from criticism. 

“It appears that the problem is big within the police organization, as there are generals and colonels involved in the illegal drug trade,” Abalos told reporters.  

None of the high-ranking officers, including Philippine National Police chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr. and Brig. Gen. Jason Ortizo, who directs the department’s Chaplain Service, have been spared from the request to submit their resignations.

“If you are not involved in shady deals, then there is nothing to worry about,” Abalos said. 

The appeal, Abalos said, was more of a “shortcut” to go around the circuitous justice system in the Philippines. Those who comply will keep their posts until and unless President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. accepts their resignations. 

He said the move would not stop the Interior Department from filing cases or going after those involved in the narcotics trade.  

Col. Redrico Maranan, the national police spokesman, said top officers would comply with the minister’s call.

This is not the first time that such a request has been made. In 1992, then-President Fidel Ramos called for all officers aged 56 or older, with more than 30 years’ experience, to resign.

Still, Carlos Conde, a senior Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch, questioned the move.

He said Abalos should not skirt the legal process.

“Mr. Abalos is not serving the cause of justice and accountability by being so passive about this. If he is serious about accountability, he needs to ensure that police personnel who committed abuses are investigated and charged in court,” Conde told BenarNews. 

“Mr. Abalos cannot invoke the problems of the criminal justice and judicial systems to justify this shortcut,” Conde said. 

Abalos made the request six years after Duterte directed the national police to carry out his war on drugs that killed thousands of Filipinos, mostly from poor communities.  

Duterte, who is under investigation by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity, has promised to protect police officers facing criminal charges if they were sued by the families of those killed in the drug war.

He also publicly accused judges, political foes and police and military officials of being involved in the drug trade, although investigators did not produce evidence.  

Corruption allegations

In 2019, Duterte’s drug war was in doubt after the country’s police chief at the time, then-Gen. Oscar Albayalde, was forced to quit shortly after 13 of his men allegedly sold confiscated drugs. He denied the accusation and he was later cleared by the ombudsman.  

Just a few months after Duterte was sworn into office in 2016, a South Korea businessman, Jee Ick-Joo, was abducted and later killed inside Camp Crame, the police headquarters in Manila. Rogue police officers were charged with the killing. 

In a statement Wednesday afternoon after police leaders held an emergency meeting to discuss the request, Azurin, the national police chief, said they “strongly support” the request.

He stressed that all senior officials would “be undergoing a thorough vetting process to determine whether or not they have involvement in illegal drugs activities in their entire career.” 

An officer who has involvement in crime “deserves to be cleared from all doubts, innuendos or perception as to his service integrity and reputation,” the statement said. 

It said a five-man committee of officials with “impeccable character and unquestionable integrity” had been tasked to spearhead the investigation.

“We take this move as an opportunity to aggressively, however prudently, cleanse the ranks of the whole PNP and a chance to show the integrity of the organization amidst issues affecting its members,” Azurin said, using an acronym for the Philippine National Police.


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