Written by Jennifer Santiago Oreta.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) efforts to reform after 1986 were largely fuelled by fear of political adventurism in the military akin to the Marcos era. The 1989 Davide Commission and 2003 Feliciano Commission were convened as reactions to serious attempts by some AFP officers to wrestle back political power. A number of the recommendations of these Commissions, particularly in the areas of procurement and finance, awards and promotions, and grievance mechanisms have already been institutionalised by the military.

The accusation of impunity becomes very real if the organisation will not lean hard on its erring members.

The crescendo of the reform process arguably happened during the launch of the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) in 2010. Indeed, the process by which the document was formulated was a stark deviation from past efforts. Instead of being conducted in secret, the formulation process was opened to civil society organisations (CSO), the academe, business, and key government agencies. Moreover, the core principles of the document include human rights (HR) and international humanitarian law (IHL), rule of law (i.e., constitutionality and legality), and stakeholders’ engagement. Finally, in a development which surprised even the staunchest critics of the military, the document was made open to everyone.

The current AFP-Development Support and Security Plan (DSSP) launched in 2016 continues from the IPSP tradition, the main difference is the more nuanced role of the military vis-a-vis the development thrust of the current administration.

To date, the military has established its Human Rights Office (HRO) at all levels — in the General Headquarters, the Area Commands, Divisions, the Brigades, down to the Battalion level. The HRO promotes HR-IHL and rule of law in the AFP, as well as looking into human rights complaints against soldiers or CAFGU (Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit) members. While arguably there are still human rights violations committed by soldiers or CAFGU, it is important to highlight that institutionally, violations are taken seriously and are not tolerated by the organisation.

The stakeholder engagement principle has also taken root. Shunned and mistrusted at first, civil society organisations are now a common sight in consultations convened by the AFP. In particular, the Bantay Bayanihan (BB) network of civil society groups which started with a handful of seven organisations in 2010 has now ballooned to around 250 member organisations, the primary focus of which is to have a “critical but constructive” engagement with the AFP especially in the areas of HR, IHL, and rule of law. The BB network has institutionalised the quarterly meeting-dialogue with the AFP in 16 provinces that are affected by the violence of armed rebel groups.

The AFP has likewise established a Multi-Sectoral Governance Council composed of respected members from the business, academe and civil society, the purpose of which is to guide the institution in its professionalisation and modernisation agenda.

Still, the reform process remains wanting in certain areas. Among the most important areas to look into are the revolving-door policy in appointing the Chief-of-Staff; the politicisation in the promotion process largely due to the powers exercised by the Commission of Appointment; the need to balance the focus on internal security (especially on matters related to terrorism) and external security (particularly protecting the territories in the West Philippine Sea); the harmonisation of the bidding requirement of the procurement law with the specificity of the needs of military hardware; improving gender balance in military assignments; and making the soldiers imbibe the importance of human rights as a personal value-system. It is important, therefore, that apart from continuing its positive strides, the military looks into possible interventions to address these areas.

Reforming the PNP

The Philippine National Police (PNP) Patrol Plan 2030 aims to “transform the PNP into a more capable, effective and credible police agency.” To this end, a “score-card” mechanism was instituted to ensure compliance. Likewise, a Multi-Sectoral Board composed of respected civilian leaders was convened to assist and guide the PNP with its professionalisation agenda. The PNP has also adopted the “Rights-based Policing” approach to guide its members in the exercise of their law-enforcement function.

But unlike the AFP where a singular chain of command and organisation exists, the PNP’s organisational setup affects its reform agenda. While it is “one PNP” in principle, operationally, the police get their directives from two sets of “leaders” — one, from the PNP-National Headquarters; and two, from the local mayors. This is because, under the Republic Act 6975 or the PNP law, city and municipal mayors exercise “operational supervision and control over PNP units in their respective jurisdiction.” This provision is meant to strengthen the power of local mayors on issues of peace and order. However, it unfortunately politicises the local police. The transactional character of local politics also can provide unscrupulous police protection from punishment, with some local mayors acting as “padrino” to these crooked members of the police force.

Hence, despite the efforts to transform the organisation, the overlay of local politics makes the reform process with the PNP significantly more difficult.

Against this backdrop, the new administration has deployed the PNP in its “war on drugs.” It is no surprise, then, that the organization struggles to achieve its goals. Worst, the intersection of local politics with the drug problem creates space for abuse, victimising thousands of people in the process.

The PNP needs to speed up its professionalisation and modernisation process, as well as  to strengthen its control and punitive mechanisms if it is serious about its reform agenda. The accusation of impunity becomes very real if the organisation will not lean hard on its erring members.

Institutionally, it may be useful to consider separating the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) into two separate departments — the Department of Interior and the Department of Local Government. Separating the two can improve focus and hopefully, performance. Interior will handle all matters related to internal peace, order and security, and will manage the PNP, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), and Bureau of Fire (BoF). The Department of Local Government on the other hand will focus on mainstreaming and monitoring good governance measures to the 81 provinces, 1500 municipalities, 120 cities, and 42,000 barangays; if the federalism law gets passed, it will assist the local government units in the shift to federalism.

It is also important to amend the law to insulate the PNP from the parochial and transactional character of local politics, strengthen the institution’s merit system in promotions, and strengthen the democratic control mechanisms.

Outlook for 2018

Perhaps most crucially, it is necessary that a National Security Policy and National Security Strategy (NSP-NSS) are adopted by the administration. If fact, there has to be  legislation where it is mandated, at the beginning of the term, for Congress to pass a NSP-NSS law. The NSP-NSS can guide the defence posturing of the country, especially where the Philippines has overlapping interests. It can guide the AFP and PNP, the local government units, government agencies, the private sector and the civil society as regards their role in promoting peace and order in localities; and it can guide the table of organisation and equipage/hardware of both the PNP and AFP vis-a-vis their roles in internal and external security.

Security, after all, is a condition where individuals and communities are free from fear of violence, criminality, and aggression; and where people have access to the means and platforms that allow them to pursue their desired quality of life. The NSP-NSS can provide the framework by which the state can achieve its security goals.

Jennifer Santiago Oreta is a faculty member of the Ateneo de Manila University Department of Political Science, and a member of the think tank Security Reform Initiative (SRI). This article originally appeared on Business World and can be found here. Image credit: CC by Wikimedia Commons.

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