Stamped In Blood: A Complicated History of Philippine Policing
A lot has been said about the recent turn of events which involved policemen killing, detaining, and apprehending various types of people in broad daylight. We can even point out that in this pandemic, they have been given a carte blanche to do such acts, often with bureaucratic approval. But public perceptions on the police in general have still been negative, in spite of the enduring appeal of the anti-crime rhetoric of the present administration and before it.
Some will even defend the institution entirely, arguing that the actions of only a few policemen are not indicative of what they are doing, which is to serve and protect. But another concern must be raised: where did they gain the audacity to break the law they swore to protect? Blaming this on the pro-violence rhetoric of the last few years is only scratching the surface of this problem. But it’s more complicated—convoluted—than that. To get to the bottom of where we are now, we have to look at the beginning.
Out With The Guardia Civil, In With the Constabulary
During the early years of the American occupation and beyond, the independence movement in the Philippines never died out. There has been a succession of various personages and associations ranging from the Colorums in the rural areas, trade unions, reformist associations of elites, and full-blown parties like the Sakdalistas. Contrary to the notion of American rule as ‘benevolent’ and ‘progressive,' the Americans knew that they could only impose their agenda with force. Thus, the Philippine Constabulary was established to become a component of their security apparatus.
Succeeding the notorious Guardia Civil, the Constabulary inherited most of the functions and responsibilities of the previous Spanish regime. This included arbitrary arrests, the use of harassment, and even the tolerance of torture as anti-crime deterrents. For the Americans and their Filipino collaborators, the Constabulary was designed to provide security for the new order. This would mean that they had the full blessing and sanction of the State to repress its opposition, whether they come from the nationalist agitations or socialist causes, which often morphed as one as they addressed the same roots and grievances.
The Constabulary was involved in episodes wherein the Philippine independence movement was put to heel. It was complicit in the destruction of the Moro Sultanates, the pickets of the laborers, unrest by the farmers, the disbandment of the Sakdalistas, the death of Teodoro Asedillo among many other incidents. During the Japanese occupation, even a part of the Constabulary was fully invested in killing fellow countrymen and combating several patriotic guerrillas whose goal was to overthrow the puppet regimes set up by the Japanese.
The postwar era didn’t make it any better. It was the height of the Cold War between the U.S. and the former USSR, and anyone suspected of leftist sympathies was arrested. Poets such as Amado Hernandez saw their share of batons and the prisons. In the provinces, members of the Constabulary acted as agents of their governors and mayors who were more interested on liquidating their rivals.
Perhaps the most contributory factor on why the Constabulary was disbanded was its actions during the regimes of Ferdinand Marcos and Corazon Aquino. Despite their claimed differences from one another, both regimes were mere extensions of the system. The Constabulary acted on the wishes of their handlers. In the Marcos years, it worked hand in hand with the military to enforce the New Society. And during the ‘supposedly’ democratic administration of the Cory government, it was heavily implicated in the oppression of the common people, with the Mendiola Massacre cited as an example. Such a reputation has endured in the minds and memories of many, and this has led to calls for sufficient reform.
From its ashes, the Philippine National Police was born.
The PNP and The Present Order
Despite the alteration of names and the colors of their uniform, the PNP is hardly an improvement over the Constabulary. Large cadres of personnel of the PNP still came from the tumultuous years of the 1970s and 1980s Constabulary, which imbibed a notion of siege mentality in their conduct and habits. The opinion of the PNP has not improved either. In the closing decades of the 2010s, Ang Probinsyano of Coco Martin dared to portray the various issues of nepotism within the PNP, a controversial move given that it was funded and sponsored by the PNP. This became a controversy when former PNP Chief Oscar Albayade complained of the depiction in this television series, and the ‘alleged’ leftist bent of the show. It’s clear as day the PNP continues to struggle with an image problem, which is neither a contemporary manifestation or a reflection of current events.
So where do we go from here? In the United States, there are already calls for police abolition and defunding the police. While we can critique this perspective as too radical, we must entertain their points of contention. In recent years, the increasing rhetoric of security in a post 9/11 era has only confirmed this tendency: politicians can no longer promise a future, so they need to protect us from nightmares, whether existing or imagined.
If you think the dystopian worlds of Orwell's 1984, Huxley's Brave New World, Moore's V For Vendetta, or even Collins' The Hunger Games exist only in fiction, we are inching closer to its eventual realization. They have been in fact legally sanctioned with the spate of anti-terrorism laws passed through various national legislatures. The police forces, willingly or unwillingly, have become the last bastions of an increasingly detached and ravenous status quo who are no longer quiet of their desire to rule unquestionably and submit the people into indifference, fear, and apathy. The problem is not with the isolated incidents, but with the subconscious culture that has allowed it to proliferate.
These grisly origins are indeed painful, disorienting, and difficult to swallow, but the journey for rectifying it begins here.
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