St. Petersburg, FL. Corruption, moribund economy, worsening drug situation and extrajudicial killing, disjointed criminal justice system, and inept law enforcement. These were some of the thorny issues raised about the Philippines during the student forum recently held at the Stetson University College of Law at St. Petersburg, Florida.
The forum, organized and hosted by the Asian American Law Students Association of Stetson, headed by law sophomore Matthew Ceriale, aimed to give the students a first-hand view of the issues and concerns bugging the Philippines “on both sides of the aisle.”
Two Filipino-American panelists were invited to the event — retired Police General Cresencio “Cris” Maralit, former spokesperson and chief public information officer of the Philippine National Police (PNP); and Jose Omila, director of cultural affairs, Philippine Cultural Foundation, Inc, in Tampa, Florida. Both explained the issues and concerns raised in the Philippines and abroad, and the myriad of solutions attempted to solve them before and during the current administration of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
Maralit spoke lengthily on the historical and institutional perspective of law enforcement in the Philippines, particularly the evolution and transformation of law enforcement from the insular Philippine Constabulary to the present PNP.
He also spoke on the nature and extent of crime in the Philippines, as well as the factors and problems besetting the country’s criminal justice system and its law enforcement arm. He said that the past and present problems of law enforcement do not radically differ, and still continue to stymie the current campaign against criminality and lawlessness.
He explained that the old Constabulary became a colonial instrument of repression during the American colonial regime, while the then Philippine Constabulary/Integrated National Police became a coercive apparatus of political dynasties and personalities.
Maralit said the present PNP was originally envisioned to be a police organization that is “civilian in character and national in scope” to shield it from political pressure. Sadly, Maralit said, the PNP has not totally shaken off its public image problem of a “lazy, unprofessional policeman with a bloated belly, or the “hoodlum in uniform” engaged in criminal and corrupt activities.
Among the programs he cited to improve the PNP were the re-training of police personnel with emphasis on moral upliftment and community relations; standardization of salary in accordance with civil service laws and regulations; and strengthening of disciplinary mechanisms, such as the National Police Commission, Internal Affairs, and People’s Law Enforcement Board to expedite the resolution and adjudication of cases against erring policemen.
During the open forum, the question of decentralizing police functions, like in the United Sates, was raised to possibly improve law enforcement in the Philippines. Maralit explained that the rationale for integrating all local police units under one central command structure was to remove the local politicians’ stranglehold on the police under their jurisdiction and to prevent them from using the police as “private armies” to perpetuate their stay in power.
Omila, for his part, cited the inequities of the socio-economic, political and cultural conditions prior to and during the Duterte administration, and how the people view the President as purveyor of change.
He also cited other pressing problems that require priority attention, such as poverty and unemployment, runaway population explosion, communist insurgency and Muslim rebellion and secession, poor education system, environment and ecological crisis, and traffic and outmoded mass transport system.
Omila said that in spite of Duterte’s harsh and sometimes nasty rhetoric, majority of the Filipino people still look to him to institute drastic changes in governance and reign in graft and corruption that had long plagued past administrations in the country.
Also on the panel was Dorothea Beane, professor of law (civil procedures) at Stetson Law. She explained the complexities of human rights in conflict areas like the Philippines, where the question of extrajudicial killings continues to becloud Duterte’s hard-line stance against illegal drugs.
She also expounded on the mandate of the International Criminal Court, an intergovernmental organization and international tribunal that has jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for international crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.
Louis Virelli, Stetson professor on Constitutional Law, was forum moderator.
Ceriale said the AALSA is a campus organization committed to supporting Asian American law students and their colleagues, and help its members to be cognizant of the political, social and cultural issues that may arise vis-a-vis the Asian marketplace so that they may be capable of tackling complex legal problems in these situations.