SINCE the Philippine National Police (PNP) already applied the brakes in its “war” against the illegal drugs trade, the understanding is that the PNP hierarchy led by Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa has started the promised purge of scalawags in the organization. That seems to be the message in the photo of dela Rosa in Angeles City last Wednesday staring down at seven policemen who were doing pushups. The policemen are being accused of extortion.

The seven Angeles City cops allegedly robbed three Korean nationals and extorted money from them during a Dec. 30 raid that was done on the pretext that the victims were engaged in online gaming. The cops, all low ranking, reportedly took the Korean nationals’ computers, jewelry and other items plus P10,000 in cash. They brought the victims to the police station and held them for eight hours until a friend of the Korean nationals coughed up P300,000.

If dela Rosa showing up in Angeles City was the start of the purge, I would say it was lame. A cleansing process is a major undertaking that is why I expect more from dela Rosa and the PNP hierarchy. A purge cannot be successful if no preparation is done and if it is not done systematically. More importantly, the officers that would be on top of it should be well-selected, meaning they should constitute the most honest and uncompromising people in the organization.

A purge of scalawags if done recklessly would be destructive and if done loosely would be ineffective. That is why I would say that dela Rosa’s task is not easy.

The last we heard, dela Rosa has announced the creation of a counter-intelligence task force to run after scalawags in uniform at the same time that he deactivated the PNP’s Anti-Illegal Drugs Unit and similar units created at the regional, provincial, city and station levels. Members of a police anti-drug unit were behind the abduction and killing of Korean national Jee Ick-Joo. Who will compose the counter-intelligence unit is still being looked into.

In the meantime, he has instructed some concerned units in Camp Crame to come up with a list of PNP personnel who were dismissed from the service but reinstated and those who are currently facing charges. This must be what has brought him to Angeles City. Cases for kidnapping for ransom and robbery have already been filed against the Angeles City cops.

Forming a counter-intelligence unit and coming up with a list of policemen who were dismissed and reinstated or who have cases in court can be the easier part of the purge, although ensuring that only clean cops are on top of the cleansing process can also be tricky. The harder part is in ensuring that the purge would not have as casualty innocent policemen. Not all those facing cases, for example, are guilty as charged.

It is when innocents become collateral damage in the purge that it would fail. So will the process produce a reinvigorated PNP or will it result in widespread demoralization in PNP ranks?