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Police Corruption in the Philippines: A Growing ‘Perversion’

September 5, 1988

MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ Burglars recently broke into the home of an elderly couple, ransacked the house and stabbed the wife. A few weeks later, a city councilman was found dead after exposing members of a car theft ring.

On the surface, such incidents appear regrettably routine in a city with one of the world’s highest crime rates. But in both cases officials admit the crimes were carried out by police.

Hardly a day passes without newspapers reporting crimes of violence in Manila and elsewhere that were carried out by the very people charged with protecting society.

During the first seven months of 1988, 67 policemen were fired for involvement in crimes nationwide. Most were assigned in the Manila area. Of the 67 policemen, 18 were charged with murder, according to official figures.

Cicero Campos, chairman of the National Police Commission, said his agency receives an average of 1,500 complaints each year of criminal activity among the country’s 52,000 policemen.

But he admits the figure represents ″the tip of the iceberg″ because the majority of crimes committed by police and soldiers are never reported.

Much of the crime involves petty ″shakedowns.″ For example, traffic policemen extorting motorists for unauthorized, on-the-spot ″fines″ are a common sight on Manila’s busy thoroughfares.

Last month, Maj. Gen. Ramon Montano, commander of the Philippine Constabulary, told a congressional committee that investigators recently cracked a massive car-theft ring made up mostly of soldiers and police.

Montano said the arrests of the corrupt officers contributed to a significant reduction in the number of car thefts in the country.

Poorly paid policemen often moonlight as bouncers for bars and prostitution fronts. Others join crime syndicates involved in gambling, narcotics and prostitution, either by guaranteeing them virtual immunity from arrest or, in some cases, serving as bodyguards for mob leaders.

Policemen are widely assumed to have been involved in the unsolved slaying of leftist leaders.

Five policemen have been charged with the attempted murder in June of leftist Nemesio Prudente, president of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. The officers, who were on duty when they allegedly attacked Prudente, are scheduled for arraignment this month.

Crimes committed by police rose to unprecedented levels during the 20-year rule of President Ferdinand Marcos, who was ousted on Feb. 25, 1986, after a civilian-military uprising that propelled Corazon Aquino to the presidency.

Many soldiers and police joined the uprising against Marcos. Once in office, Mrs. Aquino pledged to restore honest government and end abuses by police and soldiers. But the police department’s image, as well as the government’s own prestige, is now threatened by a resurgence of corruption.

Julie Yap Daza, a prominent newspaper and broadcast commentator, wrote in the Manila Standard that corruption has reached unacceptable levels.

″Police corruption is not unique to us, all right,″ she wrote. ″But this is corruption with a different face, the face of perversion.... It is a dark time for the good cops, if there are any left.″

Campos, a retired Constabulary brigadier general, blames the problem on low salaries. A patrolman receives a monthly starting salary of $50, well below the government’s poverty line of $120 a month for a family of five.

″We do not have a coterie of angels or saints in the police force,″ he said in an interview. ″But certainly these people are all humans, and they are up for temptation. Perhaps what we can do is insulate them from temptation.″

He said the commission has recommended that Congress increase police salaries as a step toward curbing corruption.

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