Philippine Commentaries

Read Malaya's daily commentaries on economic and political developments that shape Philippine society. Veteran Filipino journalist Joy C. de los Reyes is the paper's editor-in-chief of Malaya, an independent daily newspaper in the Philippines. To visit Malaya's website, just click the Malaya link below.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Itchy trigger fingers or itchy palms?

The Philippine National Police is itching to get its licks in at the communist rebels following Gloria Arroyo’s declaration of "all-out war."

"We want an active role, like conducting offensives," PNP spokesman Sr. Supt. Samuel Pagdilao said.

According to Pagdilao, the PNP has always been on a "defensive mode" toward the communist rebels. The police can act only when attacked. As a result, they have been relatively easy targets for raids which usually result in firearms being carted off by the rebels.

The zeal of the PNP is commendable. But why can’t it devote its attention to maintenance of peace and order first?

Criminality is rampant. The PNP admits as much by saying it could not perform its job well because it is undermanned and inadequately equipped. The PNP has 118,000 members securing 80 million people, for a policeman-to-population ratio of around 1:700, well below the 1:500 minimum.

The PNP even lacks basic firearms, let alone prowl cars, ships and planes to carry out its mission. Of handguns, the PNP has 100,500 in its inventory, leaving 14 percent of its men without this basic equipment.

So why should the police look for a new fight when it cannot even lick the enemy at hand?

Perhaps, it’s not a case of itchy trigger fingers, but of itchy palms? This is probably unfair to the PNP leadership but, let’s face it, the military and the police have not exactly been known for, ah, scrupulous financial accounting.

Gloria has ordered the release of P1 billion to bankroll her all-out war against the communist rebels. A total of P400 million is earmarked for the Armed Forces, P300 million for the PNP and P300 million for unspecified "developmental" projects.

We are not begrudging the PNP for seeking a fair share of the P1 billion funding. It certainly needs the money. Let’s go back to the handgun shortage. Let’s place the shortage at an even 18,000. At P30,000 a piece, the price the PNP is paying for it latest negotiated purchase, 18,000 guns already cost P540 million.

(Of long firearms, the PNP has 60,000, including those on the pipeline. That’s a shortage of 58,000. But Gloria says 100,500 handguns plus 60,000 long firearms gives a total 160,000 firearms. There is, therefore, no shortage by Gloria’s kind of arithmetic.)

Our suggestion to the PNP is to use all P300 million to buy 10,000 handguns. That still leaves an 8,000 shortage. But it has to start somewhere. The police need not raise the Red bogey to ensure each member has a sidearm.

Just waive the 10 percent "SOP," please.

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