IT was what one might call a “conflicted situation” that Police Senior Supt. Joel Doria faced in July 2016 when he assumed his post as Cebu City police chief.
● First, there was the place of assignment, Cebu City, whose mayor, Tomas Osmeña, was pissed off when he couldn’t keep the police chief he preferred.
Coincidentally or not, at about the same time, Tomas reduced material support to the local police by recalling vehicles, firearms and other forms of subsidy from City Hall.
● Second, there was the thinly veiled signal for police not to bother so much about rules of engagement in going after drug traffickers. Not official policy but the word from up there meant so when it trickled down.
Doria had to face an unfriendly mayor who had expressed his feelings the way it would hurt most: striking at logistics of the police force.
And he had to operate under an administration that seemed like it had little use for rules that protect individual rights of crime suspects. That, amid an increasing uproar from concerned sectors over the death toll in the drugs campaign.
The first was troubling but not crippling. After all, he had the national government behind him. The second was tougher. How would it look if he couldn’t show a pile of bodies to prove the success of the drug war? And if he could, how would that keep faith with the police vow to “defend and protect” the people?
What he showed
Doria presented instead pile after pile of confiscated illegal drugs (worth P80 million) and the head count of arrested suspects (1,700).
So far, there has been no revival of the extrajudicial killings in Cebu City, which in 2004-2005 chalked up almost 200 unsolved murders, by police or vigilantes. The issue split Cebu’s leaders and drew national attention, prompting the U.S. Embassy to send fact-finders to look at the situation.
On Doria’s record, neither the mayor nor the PNP leaders could complain.
The Metrobank Foundation chose Doria as one of three best police officers in the 2017 “Outstanding Filipinos” awards and precisely for his work against illegal drugs. (The other categories are outstanding teachers and top soldiers.)
Yet there’s a disconcerting subtext about Doria’s success: he proved that Mayor Tomas and President Duterte could be wrong. Tomas, in judging who’d make the better police chief; Duterte, in relying too much on violence as solution to the drug menace.
Wait, hold on. Of course, it cannot be claimed Doria has already licked the local drug problem. But he has shown that honest-to-goodness law enforcement -- along with prosecution, rehab measures and other lawful methods -- even without executing suspects, could work.
If only they’d stop the flow of prohibited drugs through the Bureau of Customs, tons of them, which would make Doria’s haul puny indeed.
Published in the SunStar Cebu newspaper on September 12, 2017.
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