📰 From top cop to eagle eye [Manila Standard]

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From Lito Banayo’s columns in the Manila Standard: His stint as chief of the PNP was hailed by one and all, resulting in the police organization’s getting an all-time high trust rating. He stopped the everyday “kotong” which preyed on most everybody, from jeepney drivers to taxi drivers, to “viajeros” of food produce.

From top cop to eagle eye

So I See – Lito Banayo (Manila Standard)
November 25, 2019 – 12:50 a.m.

The evolution — metamorphosis, if you like — of Ping Lacson through the years is quite remarkable.

I may sound biased because for some years during the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, I was a consultant to the senator first elected in May 2001. In 2004, when he was running for president, I was his spokesman.

But readers would surely have observed that Senator Panfilo M. Lacson has not become a one-issue legislator like some of his colleagues in that chamber. Expected to focus on peace and order issues, he has become quite adept at most every other national concern, but particularly impressive when it comes to dissecting the ways and means by which public monies are expended.

Few I suppose know that the curriculum at the Philippine Military Academy is strong on mathematics, and it would be safe to presume that the young Lacson learned his number-crunching well at the academy.

But it is not usual for policemen, or even the chief of the Philippine National Police, to be adept at the budget even of the PNP — except those who were assigned to comptrollership positions.

In fact, some have gained notoriety as comptrollers in the military or the police organization because of the manner they mishandled public monies, as in the conversion of operational funds to fatten his pocket and that of his superiors, those whose shoulders are emblazoned with metal stars.

But Lacson’s career in the Philippine Constabulary, then part of the armed forces, and thereafter with the Philippine National Police, a civilianized institution, has not been about crunching numbers or managing their budgets. He was in intelligence and in operations, not financial administration.

His stint as chief of the PNP was hailed by one and all, resulting in the police organization’s getting an all-time high trust rating. He stopped the everyday “kotong” which preyed on most everybody, from jeepney drivers to taxi drivers, to “viajeros” of food produce. A single bullet that killed a kotongero cop caught in the act by his operatives days after he became PNP chief gave a chilling message to the rest of the corrupt cops.

Cars confiscated from criminal elements that were kept as some kind of war booty by policemen were returned to the Camp Crame grounds, before their “Chief PNP” got to them.

And instead of centralizing the PNP budget under his centralized control, he downloaded funds direct to police stations, the first time a director-general did. And he earned the ire of some media persons when he cut off their monthly “stipends.”

When still a young officer in the PC corps, Lacson rescued kidnap victims, scions of the wealthy, and refused gifts of appreciation after the fact.

And he went after the notorious Kuratong Baleleng gang which preyed on banks, killing tellers and bystanders along the way during FVR’s presidency as COO of then-Vice President Erap’s assigned Presidential Anti-Crime Commission.

In one of those encounters, a major crisis happened to his career, along with other officers of the national police. They were accosted before the Senate and ultimately before the courts for the extermination with prejudice of Baleleng criminals whose “human” rights they were accused of trampling upon.

And then his patron, President Erap who appointed him Chief PNP above officers more senior, put him in the “doghouse” because he dared to defy orders to go slow on jueteng, ostensibly because the illegal numbers game generated livelihood for thousands of small folk, the “masa” who idolized the president.

But Ping Lacson maintained that “what is right must be kept right; what is wrong must be set right.” And jueteng was “not right.” It was illegal.

So President Erap sought to legalize jueteng, a numbers game that was as old as the late 19th century, an addiction for poor folks who could make hundreds of pesos or so on a twenty-five centavo bet. Which proved to be his jueteng-gate downfall when Chavit Singson spilled the beans and uncovered a Pandora’s jar of alleged malfeasances.

Lacson ran for senator immediately after Erap’s fall from the presidency in 2001, and won, but not after a bloody May 1 incident when the un-shod and the un-washed charged at Malacañang. It was about a week before elections, and Lacson along with his classmate Greg Honasan, also a senatorial candidate at the time, had to go into hiding after President GMA ordered their arrest.

As a senator, Lacson first accepted his share of the so-called pork barrel, the lump-sum kitty for all legislators to shower around on favored projects, but discovered anomalies in the execution of the projects—by public works personnel, or contractors, or the LGU officials, a gaggle of corruption conspiring with each other.

From then on, he denied himself the pork barrel. And from then on, he studied the intricacies of the national expenditure budget.

Each year he would expose the layers upon layers of fat hidden in the interstices of the budget, to the consternation of those who inserted them, and those who would profit from the fat.

Despite the disdain of fellow legislators in the Lower House and LGU officials who could not get favors from him, Lacson earned the respect of the electorate and has been reelected over and over again.

He is now on his third term as senator and could seek reelection come 2022, or as some would wish, for a higher post.

He tried running for president in 2004, against the “illegitimate” GMA and the “king” of Philippine movies, FPJ. Without a party and a running-mate, Lacson placed a respectable third, garnering some 3.1-million votes nationwide.

Some say he would have been president had he acceded to becoming a vice presidential candidate to the popular FPJ, who died of cerebral aneurysm seven months after the election which he “lost.” But then again, Providence does not write destiny in such manner.

Today, he is all over the news, decrying insertions of pork, poring over the minutiae of the budget, as an eagle eye trained by years of sleuthing on the ways and means by which public monies are expended.

We keep appropriating for departments which have not been able to absorb the monies we have previously allocated, he claims. So why give more, as he pored over the unspent allocations intended for three huge departments.

Will his eagle eyes, his close-guarding over the way our taxpayer money is spent be rewarded by the people with higher office in 2022?

Will he be the incorruptible strong-willed leader that would continue the political will demonstrated by Rodrigo Duterte? Or would his being a kill-joy on pork and other perks be cause for the electorate to shun him?

Vamos a ver!

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