WikiLeaks cable: Philippine police 'a mess'

Posted at 08/26/2011 2:13 AM | Updated as of 08/26/2011 5:15 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Management of the Philippine National Police (PNP) has been described as "a mess" by the US embassy, according to a leaked diplomatic cable published Thursday by WikiLeaks.

Cable 05MANILA1506, one of the more than 3,000 diplomatic cables on the Philippines released on the Internet by the whistleblower group, said few police officials can deny the issue.

It said "this reality ... severely affects the credibility of the [government] and public perceptions of governance."

"Cops are among the most noticeable of public servants, and daily exposure to corrupt, inefficient or badly managed police officials is a cancer upon the body politic," said the US embassy cable dated April 4, 2005 sent by then Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph A. Mussomeli.

Mussomeli said systemic flaws in the Philippine police "need institutional reforms" that foreign training programs have not provided.

He said the US government had proposed a Management Assessment of the Philippine Police, "which envisions a joint US-Philippine analysis of the PNP's institutional flaws in order to provide recommendations for restructuring, modernization, and professionalism."

However, top police officials and the government under then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had "never been more willing to buy into such an in-depth study."

The embassy warned that the Philippine government's failure to address the problem "will further enfeeble the PNP, hamper the improvement of rule of law, lead to greater crime and corruption, lessen the peace and order needed for faster economic growth, and undermine public safety and internal security in the face of existing terrorist activities and insurgencies."

It said failure of law enforcement, as well as popular belief that "nearly everyone in the PNP is corrupt -- may also encourage more public support for elected officials, such as the mayors of Davao and Cebu, who have openly supported the use of extra-judicial killings, coordinated in concert with local police forces under their control, as a means of controlling crime."

Corruption

Mussomeli cited a Transparency International report that tagged the PNP as the most corrupt national institution in the Philippines.

"Corruption in the PNP and related agencies stems primarily from the unholy trinity of gambling, drugs, and prostitution that beset law enforcement organizations worldwide," the embassy cable said.

"However, PNP corruption is exacerbated by Philippine law, which gives local officials control over the appointment and dismissal of local PNP commanders, encouraging corrupt city mayors to make common cause with dishonest police commanders," it explained.

It added that aside from corruption, "many cops undertake investigative short cuts that often employ physical abuse, the planting of evidence, and sometimes -- allegedly under guidance from local elected officials -- the extra-judicial killing of criminal suspects."

"The PNP suffers from a potent combination of malfeasance (misconduct or wrongdoing) and misfeasance (improper and unlawful execution of an act that in itself is lawful and proper) within an institutional culture of poor management," the cable said.

"The results permit not only corruption but also a level of incompetence that is often indistinguishable from corruption.  Mission law enforcement officials often find individual PNP members courageous, but -- especially at junior levels -- tempted by the opportunities (and, given the poverty-level wages, the virtual necessity) to 'learn how to earn' from corrupt officers in the field," it added.

It said that then PNP Director General Edgardo Aglipay launched reforms "to counter growing criticism of PNP incompetence under the tenure of Hermogenes Ebdane."

Aglipay submitted to Arroyo a report revealing bribery even within police ranks.

"As one Internal Affairs Service Police Superintendent at a PNP training institution quipped to poloff (US embassy political officer), ‘when you start with garbage, you get garbage’," the cable said.

"Police trainees and local government officials have complained that NAPOLCOM (National Police Commission) officials also sometimes receive amounts ranging from 50,000 to 100,000 pesos ($900-$1,800) for swearing in police recruits who fail the entrance tests but are willing to pay bribes," it said.

Police training institutions under fire

The cable criticized the state-controlled Philippine Public Safety College (PPSC) and the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA), which provide entry-level and senior-executive training for the PNP.

"According to Embassy contacts, students only spend 60 of those 90 days in training, with a third of the training days at the discretion of the local training centers, providing an excellent opportunity for skimming," it said. "PNPA cadets are also sometimes expected to perform personal errands for their instructors during class time in exchange for passing grades, according to contacts."

"While the PNPA in principle provides equipment and uniforms to officer recruits, much of the equipment needed for training is reportedly either non-existent or of poor quality (handguns in particular)," it added. 

"Recruits from both institutions often must take out loans or buy what they need on installment plans from individuals and businesses connected to PPSC or PNPA staff.  Many newly minted officers graduate from the PPSC and PNPA heavily in debt and unprepared to face the dangers of their new assignments.  PNPA cadets are also sometimes expected to perform personal errands for their instructors during class time in exchange for passing grades, according to contacts," according to the leaked cable.

The embassy cited PNP sources who claimed that "PPSC misconduct continues with the siphoning off of funds for the six-month Public Safety Officer Senior Executive Course (PSOSEC)," a requirement for all PNP officials at the superintendent rank who want to be eligible for promotion to chief superintendent.

"Internal PSOSEC documents cited an unspecified Training Sustenance Allowance 'subject to availability of funds,' which often do not exist in practice despite budget allocations," it revealed. "PSOSEC also contains a foreign travel requirement supposedly funded by the PPSC, where students travel to countries such as the United States and Australia to observe counterpart institutions." 

However, according to the embassy's PNP contacts, "PPSC instructors often tell students that there are 'no funds available' for the trip and the students must pay not only their own way, but also that of their instructors."

"Because the students fear they may not qualify for coveted US and Australian visas as ordinary tourists and want the promotions upon graduation, they allegedly readily agree to the payola and go along with the fiction that the trip is official (government)-funded travel.”

Paper tiger

The US embassy described the police's Internal Affairs Service (IAS) as a "paper tiger" because its officers are too close to those whom they investigate.

"PNP contacts have confirmed that the PNP has yet to make much headway into cases of malfeasance, even when its intelligence and surveillance operations collect proof of cops planting evidence or extorting bribes from criminal suspects," the cable said. 

"PNP sources allege the highest levels of the PNP Command Staff and elected officials often pressure IAS to drop or whitewash investigations, and then use dirty cops for their own political ends," it added.

It said that previous police director generals have shown reluctant to spend resources "to air dirty laundry on their watch and harm their chances of a lucrative Cabinet slot after their brief tenure."

It cited the case of Ebdane, who was later appointed by Arroyo as public works secretary, and Leandro Mendoza, who received the transportation portfolio.

"Often, internal affairs investigations are used to score public points against members of rival PNP factions. Even these operations usually fail to deliver swift, sure, and public justice that would deter corrupt cops. Administrative dismissals of corrupt police officials are possible, but are of mostly low-ranking non-commissioned officers," the embassy said.

"To fire higher-ranking officers for corruption or incompetence requires consistent pressure from the highest levels of the PNP command staff over a period of months if not years, which many consider an unattainable goal in a force that has had 12 chiefs in 14 years," it added.

As an example, the embassy mentioned a high-profile case involving Martin Soriano, who was dismissed by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) as a "confidential agent" in 1999 for a series of illegal activities. 

"Soriano, allegedly operating under the protection of and in cooperation with corrupt PNP officers, then struck out on his own as a private detective, specializing in confidence swindles of women that involved kidnapping, false arrest, and extortion," the cable said.

The PNP's Police Anti-Crime and Emergency Response (PACER) unit arrested Soriano on January 31, 2005.

The cable cited PNP comments to the press stating that Soriano's extortion racket involved the cooperation of 18 PNP officials, including a station commander, from the Western Police District that is partially responsible for securing the US embassy.

"All eighteen, however, defied orders from the Chief of the National Capitol Region Command and then-Chief Aglipay to appear for questioning for over a week, although the PNP subsequently placed them all on ‘floating’ status -- no work with full pay -- pending further disciplinary action," the embassy said.

"According to PNP contacts, many of the eighteen are now seeking the protection/intercession of prominent politicians and hoping to wait out the glacial pace of the criminal courts and the PNP's disciplinary procedures."

'Ghost' employees

The US embassy said a lack of efficient internal controls had also allowed unscrupulous PNP officials to pad salary rolls with "ghost" (or "15-30") employees who do not work, but only appear on the 15th and 30th of each month to collect their salaries. 

A former chief of the PNP Records Management Division told the embassy's political officer that "it took the majority of his two-year tenure to computerize the records of all 117,000 PNP members, including purging the rolls of 'ghost cops.'"

"Other corrupt activities include officials swindling subordinates' salaries and/or allowances by forging their signatures on the payroll list, submitting documents to the unit's finance officials, and keeping the money," the cable said.

"Red tape and corruption also plague the PNP's processing of retirement claims.  Delays in the payment of retirement benefits have created opportunities for 'fixers' to expedite claims, sparking a protest of dozens of retired police officers in front of the PNP's Camp Crame headquarters," it revealed.

While Aglipay announced a series of financial reforms before he retired, the US embassy's sources in the PNP noted that the institution had fiscal and personnel difficulties in implementing the reforms.

Armscor deal

Police corruption is also highlighted in the procurement of equipment for law enforcers, according to the leaked cable.

It cited a procurement decision in 2003 to replace existing stocks of 9mm handguns with caliber .45 1911-A1 pistols that allegedly benefited a relative of then First Gentleman Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo.

"In a P20-million peso ($377,358) contract, the PNP amended its 1995 specifications for caliber .45 handguns. This change caused gun dealers to complain that the changes were made to allow only the purchase of model 1911-A1 pistols made by Arms Corporation of the Philippines (Armscor)," the cable said.

"Gun dealers grumbled that the PNP sought to 'change the rules to favor the company owned by (First Gentleman) Mike Arroyo's first cousin’ (Demetrio "Bolo" Tuason).  One disgruntled gun dealer commented that 'if this isn't tailoring specs to favor Armscor, then I don't know what is,'" it revealed.

Gun dealers later also complained that in tests conducted by the PNP, the Armscor pistols' safety broke during the drop test and jammed at 3,000 rounds, when the PNP's minimum for an endurance test is 5,000 rounds. 

"During training conducted in 2005 in the Philippines by Joint Inter-Agency Task Force-West personnel, trainers commented that the Armscor .45s were unreliable, inaccurate, and potentially dangerous to the operator. Nevertheless, Armscor remains an approved supplier to the PNP," it said.

'Conversion' and fund diversion

The US embassy's sources, meanwhile, claimed that corrupt PNP officers "have many tricks" to divert some of the funds intended to the police force's maintenance and operations.

"Popular practices include skimming the operational funds as they come down the chain of command, 'conversion' (when officers spend money specifically allocated for one item on another), and 'throwback' (when corrupt officers allocate funds for an imaginary project and pocket the money)," the cable revealed.

"PNP contacts have commented that the PNP has zero funds dedicated for capital outlays, leading to some 'necessary' conversion in the form of misfeasance or 'honest graft,' in order to provide construction support for needed offices or services dedicated to officer welfare such as sports, recreation, or health facilities," it said.

"Additionally, PNP officers sometimes find themselves under a command order to go on motorcycle patrol but without available gasoline funds, leading them reportedly to solicit -- or coerce -- needed funds from local businesses or individuals."