Columns

OFFLINE: Beware the syndicates in the government

Philippine National Police chief Rodolfo Azurin Jr. retires next week and one of his final messages is not like what other heads of the police usually say as they make their final exit from the service.

Most will thank the incumbent president and heap praises on the cops under him, saying that the overwhelming majority are good men and women, untainted by any hint of corruption.

They will say that it was a great honor to head the PNP and leave behind numerous accomplishments, be they real or imagined.

Not Azurin.

The general warned President Bongbong Marcos to choose the next PNP chief well, at the same time warning that there is (or are) a syndicate or syndicates that want nothing more than to have one of their boys head the men and women of the 240,000-strong police force.

He left many things unsaid with his warning.

Two things stood out among the unspoken thoughts in his mind. While he made no mention of the Cabinet secretary whom he directly reports to, Azurin may have taken a pot shot at Local Government Secretary Benhur Abalos.

Not too long ago, Abalos said he already had somebody in mind to succeed Azurin. This was not a very smart thing to do, as Abalos appears to be favoring one particular officer who frequently goes with him in his out-of-town sorties.

Azurin said senior PNP officers should avoid being the center of attention during photo opportunities, and a certain bald-headed, youngish looking general appeared to be the person the retiring PNP chief was referring to.

Azurin also expressed his frustration at the Local Government secretary of not only accusing but actually demanding that several generals take a leave of absence due to the mess that followed in the wake of what has been billed as the biggest drug bust ever.

Six point seven billion pesos worth of shabu – the poor man’s cocaine – were seized in a raid in a warehouse owned by a middle-ranking police official last year.

It should have been and would have been a major victory in the war against drugs. Instead, Azurin felt that Abalos had wrongly accused PNP officers of attempting to free the capture officer, whose background was questionable to begin with.

Anti-drug intelligence officer Rodolfo Mayo was owner of a lending company housed in a warehouse where close to a thousand kilos of shabu were found.

Senator Bato dela Rosa, himself a former PNP chief, said he recalled the name Mayo as an undesirable cop who had been  reassigned to the boondocks some years ago, only to miraculously find his way back to Metro Manila, which is the most lucrative posting for anyone with a corrupt mindset.

“Higher ups” allegedly stepped in and asked that Mayo be restored to his previous posting. This mere master sergeant was apparently a billionaire at the time of his arrest.

At the time of Mayo’s arrest last October, grainy CCTV videos showed that he was initially handcuffed, then uncuffed, only to be handcuffed again.

There were PR operatives who were trying to sell the idea that it was the caretaker of Mayo’s business who was the drug boss, but nobody was biting the insane bait.

The CCTV footage supposedly enraged Abalos, who ordered three senior PNP officials to go on leave as a result.

This was done without the knowledge of Azurin, and it was his turn to  seethe with anger. He kept his mouth shut for a week, but finally let loose on Monday, this week. This would be his last week as PNP chief and he was not leaving service without saying his piece.

One general that Abalos ordered suspended appears to be innocent, only being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

PNP deputy chief Lt. Gen. Benjamin Santos had been asked by Azurin to head to the site of the raid to make sure that the evidence would remain untouched. So stated Azurin his a press con.

What got his goat was that Abalos ordered his suspension or relief or whatever the Local Government chief wants to call it without checking what actually happened. He only shot from the hip, and did not even bother to ask questions later.

There were, to be sure, two senior PNP officers at the raid, including Brig Gen. Narciso Domingo, head of the PNP Drug Enforcement Group.

Narciso had supposedly ordered the uncuffing of Mayo, ostensibly to force him to take part in a follow-up operation at another site. At least, this is what Domingo insisted was what happened.

Rightly or wrongly, Abalos concluded that there was an attempt at a cover up, and the PNP brass were behind it. He had no proof, only a few seconds worth of grainy video.

At the very, very least, Abalos should have immediately called Azurin and asked for an explanation.

With his retirement ceremony less than a week away – he officially retires on Apr. 24 – Azurin held a hastily organized presscon where he minced no words, alleging that powerful individuals were attempting to smear the PNP’s reputation.

He even said that he himself appeared to be the target of the unknown power players.

Speaking in a combination of English and the vernacular, Azurin addressed the president and said, “Sir, be careful in selecting yung papalit sa akin (my replacement).”

He continued by saying that he was genuinely worried for the president. If those powerful people could step over him despite his being PNP chief, imagine what they can do to a president who is not known for his strong leaderhip, Azurin seemed to say.

No, he did not say Marcos Jr. is a weak leader. I did.

Azurin also raised the possibility that Abalos may have also been the target of misinformation, the kind that casts doubt on the integrity of the PNP.

In his last week as PNP chief, Azurin says as far as he is concerned, there are several syndicates operating within the government.

The scariest thought of all is that the main branch of those syndicates has not been identified, and remains entrenched in power, be it political or economic.

For the longest time, there have been warnings that the Philippines could soon become a narco-political state. The vice lords and gambling lords of the past have been replaced by drug lords, and they are ten times more vicious and corrupt than the jueteng lords of the old eras.

Marcos can either listen to Azurin’s warning, or ignore it. It’s his call. But if he takes the wrong path, there will be hell to pay. He will have guaranteed that the Philippines is indeed on its way to being a narco-state, and will be a full-fledged one by the time he steps down.