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Thursday, January 24, 2019

Wenceslao: Bato, the jolly?

I WILL have to give it to Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Ronald dela Rosa, nicknamed “Bato.” The man is giving his position a different texture, which to some sectors is scary but to other people is admirable.

Most, if not all, of Dela Rosa’s predecessors sported a serious public demeanor, perhaps in keeping with the seriousness of the police task, which is to battle criminality. It could also be a product of their training; most of them were, after all, products of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA). Thus they are spic and span when they appear in public and guarded when they talk. They are selective in the functions they would attend.

But Dela Rosa is different. He is, I think, the first PNP chief who likes to be called by his nickname instead of by his family name. Incidentally, “Bato” reflects both the harshness of the PNP’s campaign against illegal drugs and his physical makeup. He is both stubby and bald, and seemingly proud of it. Or why would he not wear his cap when he is in complete uniform? And being a Bisdak, he speaks awkward Tagalog.

I was prompted to write about Dela Rosa when I saw his guesting stint in one segment of the GMA Sunday noontime variety show “Sunday Pinasaya” yesterday. I thought there was a disconnect seeing him flanked by comedians Ai-ai de las Alas and Wally Bayola and GMA’s young talent Barbie Forteza. (Ai-Ai plays herself in that segment while Forteza and Bayola role play Kris Aquino and Boy Abunda, respectively.) Jose Manalo, who plays “President Dugong,” later joined them.

I said “disconnect” because the common image on TV of PNP chiefs is during press conferences where they are flanked by their fellow police officers or during talk shows where they are flanked by journalists or by fellow guests. They are not flanked by comedians in what is basically a comedy show. No wonder Bato was initially stiff and looked lost. But he was with professionals and they eventually made him comfortable.

That guesting stint was capped by a dance-off that featured the new PNP mascot, PO1 Bato, who was designed to look like the PNP chief. Which made me recall that time when PO1 Bato was first presented and I was watching the coverage on TV with a colleague. Ever insightful, he asked me whether I didn’t find it scary that the one presiding over the intensified drive against the illegal drugs trade that involved the killing of a few hundreds of suspected drug pushers, would also look cuddly at the same time.

Of course, supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte, who appointed Bato to the post bypassing some officers more senior than him, see it differently. They are starting to idolize Bato and consider him a good choice for PNP chief. Well, I agree that having a PNP chief who tends to make light of a violent campaign is scary. But I don’t think Bato’s act is a put-on or part of an overall government strategy to cushion the impact of a violent campaign, which would have made it really scary.

I have seen Dela Rosa’s responses to some tricky situations, like Duterte naming five generals allegedly linked to the illegal drugs trade weeks ago and the surrender of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa lately and I found these to be spot-on. He knows the law and the limits of his function as PNP chief. And he doesn’t talk rough unlike his boss, the President. It’s just that he is really jolly by nature. Or at least that’s what I think.
We will have to find out more of the man in the coming days.

(khanwens@gmail.com/twitter:@khanwens)
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