Pubdate: Sat, 03 Jun 2017
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2017 The New York Times Company
Author: Aurora Almendral


DAVAO CITY, Philippines - Gen. Ronald dela Rosa, chief of the
Philippine National Police, knows the value of a public display of
remorse. He has been forced to apologize more than once.

He was wrong, he acknowledged before the Philippine Senate as TV
cameras rolled, to have trusted undisciplined policemen who killed a
small-town mayor suspected of dealing drugs, as the mayor lay
defenseless on a jail-cell floor.

"I cannot blame the public if they're losing their trust and
confidence in their police," he told the Senate panel, accepting a
tissue from the mayor's son to wipe away his tears.

He also admitted error in not having ousted all corrupt officers,
after some used the guise of an antidrug operation to kidnap a Korean
businessman for ransom, and then killed the man inside Camp Crame, the
police headquarters where General dela Rosa lives and works.

General dela Rosa has not commented on his most recent apparent
misstatement, on Friday, after an attack on the country's biggest
casino-hotel resort. Hours after he asserted that his officers had the
crisis under control, offering reassurances of safety and a return to
normalcy, dozens of bodies were found inside the complex, Resorts
World Manila.

Despite the general's promises to make the country safer, there are
conflicting signs of whether Filipinos feel that way. A recent survey
suggested they are satisfied with the violent crackdown on drugs
inaugurated by President Rodrigo Duterte, but that they do not feel
more secure.

Still, General dela Rosa, 55, says he is certain that he is right in
carrying out the president's antidrug campaign. As the head of the
national police force, General dela Rosa, who built his career as a
front-line soldier, is in charge of the day-to-day operations of the
undertaking, which has left thousands of Filipinos dead, many of them
executed on the streets.

Mr. Duterte, elected to the presidency on the promise of ridding the
country of drugs and crime, has publicly urged citizens to kill drug
addicts, offered immunity to police officers for actions during the
antidrug campaign and said of the country's drug users, "I'd be happy
to slaughter them."

General dela Rosa nevertheless professes surprise at criticism from
Western governments, United Nations agencies, the European Union and
the International Criminal Court. All have condemned the antidrug
campaign and threatened punitive actions should the human rights
violations continue.

In April, a Filipino lawyer filed a complaint with the International
Criminal Court requesting indictments against General dela Rosa, as
well as Mr. Duterte and other administration officials, for crimes
against humanity.

"I did not expect it," General dela Rosa said of the backlash against
the slaughter.

Senator Antonio Trillanes, a leading opponent of the Duterte
administration, described General dela Rosa as Mr. Duterte's foot
soldier, "operationalizing the thoughts and intentions of President

Under General dela Rosa's command, the police have killed more than
2,600 people in antidrug operations, police statistics show. At least
1,400 more people have been killed by unknown assailants in relation
to drugs, and 3,800 more are awaiting investigation.

General dela Rosa forged his friendship with Mr. Duterte over three
decades. They met in 1986, when General dela Rosa graduated from the
Philippine Military Academy and Mr. Duterte was appointed vice mayor
of Davao City, then a provincial backwater with rampant crime and
bloody rebellions by communists and Muslim separatists. By 1989, Mr.
Duterte, who was already cultivating an image as a tough-talking mayor
who valued bravery and ferocity, was the godfather at General dela
Rosa's wedding.

Like Mr. Duterte, General dela Rosa is a native of the province of
Davao. He was raised in rural poverty - his father drove a motorcycle
pedicab and his mother was a fish vendor - and made his way up the
chain of command by earning a reputation as a soldier who never backed
down from a fight.

"That's how I became Bato," he said, referring to his nickname, which
means "Rock." "Wherever there was trouble, I was there."

He rose through command positions, becoming the chief of police of
Davao in 2010. In that capacity he developed Oplan Tokhang, a
prototype for the nationwide antidrug campaign.

"The people here consider me their local hero," General dela Rosa
said. When he goes out in public, people pull out their phones to take
selfies with fists to their chests, in a gesture of support for the

When Mr. Duterte became president, it was no surprise he tapped
General dela Rosa to become the chief of the Philippine National Police.

"I am his most trusted senior officer," General dela Rosa said, in an
interview. "I know deep in my heart."

His marching orders, he said, were to replicate nationally what he had
done in Davao. "So we can let the whole Philippines feel what it's
like to live in Davao, the same governance, the same law enforcement
practices," General dela Rosa said.

Those practices have been severely criticized by rights advocates,
though residents of Davao largely defend them. Davao City is a
featureless provincial capital of low buildings, strip malls, humble
eateries and fruit stands. Human rights groups estimate that there
were 1,400 extrajudicial killings in Davao during Mr. Duterte's tenure.

What came to be called the Davao Death Squad is reported - by
witnesses, former members and human rights organizations - to have
killed suspected criminals, often from the back of a motorcycle.

These critics say the Davao police looked the other way while the
death squads operated with impunity, adding that in the 30 years that
Mr. Duterte ruled Davao, no killer was ever successfully prosecuted.

General dela Rosa says he cannot confirm the existence of an organized
Davao Death Squad, and dismissed as urban legends stories by confessed
former death squad members, and even Mr. Duterte himself, of criminals
thrown from helicopters or fed to crocodiles. He has not been named by
witnesses as a member.

While complaints of police misconduct and accusations of police
involvement in vigilante killings have become the norm lately in
Manila's slums, General dela Rosa says he addresses these accusations
by entertaining any case filed against the police.

General dela Rosa also says he is trying to rein in the explosive
murder rate. "We are trying our best to investigate all these
killings," he said.

Ten months into his tenure, however, General dela Rosa is still
speculating that the murders by motorcycle-riding gunmen are drug
dealers killing each other. As with Davao, few of the killers are
caught, and without solid evidence to support General dela Rosa's
assertion, people in the slums most targeted by the alleged vigilante
killings have said, in dozens of interviews and conversations, that
the police are involved.

Phelim Kine, of Human Rights Watch, which published a report this
March on police abuses, said Mr. Duterte and General dela Rosa, "are
unwilling or unable to grapple with this problem of extrajudicial
killings by members of the police and death squads associated with

Senator Trillanes says General dela Rosa's alleged failures to control
the police ranks are part of the larger goal. "I believe that is
deliberate because they unleashed these death squads within the ranks
of the P.N.P. and he's not stopping them because that is the order,"
Mr. Trillanes said.

General dela Rosa has for the most part defended the actions of his
men. "My policemen don't engage in any kind of nonsense," he told
local media last month, after inspecting a windowless cell hidden
behind a bookshelf at one of Manila's police stations that held 12
people without charges, amid accusations that the police were trying
to extort money from the captives' families.

General dela Rosa himself remains defiant in the face of international
condemnation and the threat of possible indictment by the
International Criminal Court. "I am working for the Filipino people,"
he said. "The Filipino people are happy with what we are doing."
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