Editorial: Police, mayor face off

WHEN a town mayor and police officials present mismatched pictures of the campaign on illegal drugs, how are taxpayers like us supposed to know whom to believe?

Take the case of Malabuyoc, where Mayor Narciso Creus has asked the Cebu Provincial Police Office (CPPO) to replace half of the southwestern Cebu town’s police force. According to the mayor, he believes half of the force had dipped their fingers into the illegal drug trade, a claim for which he has yet to show his proof.

A CPPO intelligence official’s version of the story differs. In it, the mayor was reportedly peeved when, less than three weeks ago, a police team from the CPPO intelligence branch went after a drug pushing suspect in Malabuyoc. Officers questioned a member of the town council whom they claimed to have seen drinking with the suspect. Like the mayor, the police, too, have yet to make their proof public.

Relations between the police and mayors can be tricky, especially for the police chief who has to work closely with local government leaders, but also follow the Philippine National Police’s own chain of command.

In keeping with subsidiarity, police chiefs should be accountable to the head of the town, city or province where he or she operates. The smallest, simplest or most local organization capable of handling a function, like policing, is in the best position to handle that function.

But police chiefs, as our experience with martial law has taught us, must keep local police forces from operating like the mayor or governor’s private armies. Republic Act 6975, enacted in 1990, attempts to make that balancing act possible by giving mayors enough powers to supervise and control the local police, yet limiting their disciplinary powers over the police to minor offenses. Mayors can receive citizens’ complaints against any police officer in his or her jurisdiction, but only for offenses punishable by the suspension of the officer’s salary for 16 to 30 days.

Mayors can choose the police chief, but only from a list recommended by the provincial director.

Mayor Creus is well within his authority if he formally recommends the transfer or reassignment of police officers, but it’s ultimately up to the PNP to heed or ignore him.

Under the same law, the President can suspend any mayor’s power of operational supervision over the local police if the mayor is frequently absent, abuses his authority, “provides material support to criminal elements” or does anything that “negates the effectiveness of the peace and order campaign.”

Whoever blinks first in Malabuyoc, the challenge, both for the mayor and the police, is to arrive at the facts of this particular case, without impairing efforts to keep the town safe.
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