Seares: What the police-Tomas feud is doing and Garganera’s 'who’s harassing who'

News Sense

“You see the video. Who is harassing who? Did you ever hear the police raise their voices? In fact, the mayor was all high-pitch and he took over the checkpoint.”--Cebu City Councilor Joel Garganera, in a May 1 SunStar story

Any mayor who still thinks he has “control and supervision” over the police in his local government unit must be anyone else but the mayor of Cebu City.

During the past few days, Mayor Tomas Osmeña has been publicly complaining of “harassment and terrorism” by the police: barangay captains allegedly threatened in a number of ways and a police checkpoint near his house allegedly directed at the mayor and his household. An incident involving candidate for vice mayor Mary Ann de los Santos also set off sparks of verbal exchange between police officials and the leaders of the city’s ruling party BOPK.

“Control, supervision”

Tomas wouldn’t have any illusion about having any influence over police movement in his city. “Control and supervision,” no matter how limited, allows the mayor to have a say on fielding of troops. The city is, after all, his area and his constituents are the ones the PNP is tasked “to serve and protect.”

Complicating what would’ve been an ordinary kink in PNP-LGU relations is that the people allegedly harassed and terrorized are leaders or supporters of the mayor and the councilor. And these occur in the heat of the political season, with the elections only a few days away. The partisan color may conceal or disguise true motive; public interest may be warped with political agenda. Councilor Joel Garganera and others in the rival Partido Barug believe the mayor is hyping things up for propaganda. City police chief Royina Garma complained that her police were being “harassed.”

The harasser

And “who’s harassing who”? (Or “whom,” if you insist.) Not the police who didn’t raise their voices; only the mayor’s pitch soared, he said. Councilor Joel is right, if harassment is inflicted only by a loud and angry voice from a civilian official. The police wear the uniform and carry the guns; they have the capacity to wound and kill or drag one to jail. As PNP regional chief Debold Sinas was quoted as saying, “They’re very lucky my men didn’t shoot at them. It was a legitimate checkpoint.” Legitimate and real scary.

In that sense, Tomas and Mary Ann cannot be the harasser and the police the “harassee.” And it’s not because the local leaders were unarmed and didn’t have a band of gunfighters with them.

“What Tomas wants”

The mayor does not have the authority that he used to wield when the chief executive was anyone else but President Duterte. And the police chiefs in the region and the city now enjoy the confidence and support of the president their predecessors did not have.

If the conditions were like before, Tomas would’ve long sent Sinas and Garma packing back to Davao or banished to some far and obscure posting. And Sinas and Garma wouldn’t be hostile; they would be fawning over the mayor. Remember the old line, “what Tomas wants, Tomas gets”?

Issue drowned out

But the current situation is abnormal, if not weird. Police officials don’t quarrel with mayors, and vice versa. Not on the public stage, as if they were the protagonists in the election campaign, not Osmeña vs. Edgar Labella and de los Santos vs. Mike Rama.

The police checkpoints may be legitimate but the timing appears to be off and the way they’re being conducted is questionable. The suspicion inevitably rears an ugly head. Candidates of the national administration, which controls the police, are in a bruising fight with Osmeña and his party mates over City Hall.

Meantime, debate on the more compelling issue—whether decades of Osmena governance have solved the city’s major ills—is being drowned out by noise from the public officials’ quarrel with the police.


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