I HOPE and pray that all members of the 190,000-strong Philippine National Police will fully support PNP chief General Oscar Albayalde’s latest ‘brainchild’ to fully assist police officers and men who are being slapped with counter-suits and other harassment cases in the performance of their duties.
The country’s top cop told me that he wants his men to monthly donate P10 from their salaries, the amount of which will go to a PNP revolving fund needed to hire a top-caliber law firm that will defend them from counter-suits being filed by moneyed groups and other individuals affected by legitimate police operations.
The money collected: let’s say P1.9 million a month if all members of the police force will voluntarily donate P10 which is just enough to buy two sticks of cigarettes—or about P22.8 million a year—will be used to hire a prestigious law company to defend policemen who are facing counter-suits as a result of their anti-criminality specifically anti-narcotics operations.
Gen. Albayalde said his idea is to have ‘abogados de campanilla’ or top-caliber lawyers who will always be there to act as counsels for policemen who have been slapped counter-suits while performing their duties, not those who have been arrested and charged for grave misconduct like robbery-extortion and involvement in drugs.
At present, the PNP Legal Service headed by my friend, Chief Superintendent Noli Ozaeta really has no enough lawyers to assist the entire police force and obviously, the government really has no sufficient fund to provide full legal assistance to law enforcers facing harassment suits and making it sure that these cops won’t find themselves in the losing end, worst in jail for just doing their job.
Ideally, there should be one PNP-LS lawyer in a city or municipal police station who will be consulted each time there is an ongoing police operation like service of search warrants and other legitimate police operations. However, I’ve been told that the situation is very much different on the ground where PNP-LS lawyers assigned in a regional office have to shuttle from one province to another just to provide legal assistance to a unit involved in an anti-crime operation.
Most importantly, police-lawyers should be there to help investigators file criminal charges against arrested suspects with the end in view of making convictions and not seeing those cases being dismissed outright at the level of the prosecutor’s office due to ill-prepared cases. However, we can’t blame the PNP-LS here since much still has to be done before that special unit truly becomes a world-class office servicing the PNP chief and his men.
If the plan will materialize, the PNP will be having a private law firm which will assist the PNP-LS in providing legal assistance to policemen in distress and giving many of our poor policemen who have been slapped with harassment cases in the performance of their duties all the opportunity to defend themselves without getting the money from their own pockets.
That’s the predicament of many of our good policemen since the PNP was created. In many cases, good cops face the predicament of being charged in court by moneyed suspects, or upon the instigation of influential groups at the moment they stepped on the heels of powerful drug lords or big-time syndicates while perfoming their duties. Our good cops’ situation is very much different from rich and influential people including lawmakers and politicians who can always get very good lawyers that will keep them out of jai even though they have been accused of ordering the assassination of their closest rivals, or they have been charged with plunder or stealing public funds.
The sad fact remains that in many cases, policemen who have been slapped with harassment suits are left to fend for themselves due to insufficient government funds to provide them legal assistance. These policemen are forced to spend their lifetime savings or borrow money from their friends and relatives to hire private lawyers and pay for their acceptance, hearing or consultation fees which amount to tens if not hundreds of thousands of pesos depending on the nature of the case and how long the court litigations will be.
Take it from countless police officers and men whose stories I have written after they were slapped with harassment suits that rendered them ineffective for years, with some literally losing their careers due charges fabricated by moneyed and influential personalities who can hire all the best lawyers they can have.
As envisioned by Gen. Albayalde, the revolving legal fund will be used to hire a private law firm-naturally the best in the land-to provide complete legal assistance and advises as well as legal researches and jurisprudence to the PNP leadership and its men specifically when it comes to major issues affecting the entire country like the extension of martial law in Mindanao, terrorism and the continuing crackdown against drug lords and their ilk.
Many skeptics and government critics will question the wisdom of asking cops to volunteer P10 a month for the PNP’s legal assistance program for sure but what the heck. It’s a noble program that will help the majority of the police force who are doing good. Besides, it’s a ‘bayanihan concept’ and in the name of volunteerism, it’s high time to hire the best and the brightest lawyers for our good cops.