Everyone who’s had to travel by air knows the drill by now. You go through tedious security checks at the airport, which include taking off your shoes and having them as well as your cell-phone, laptop, belt, jacket and anything else you’’e hand- carrying x-rayed. If it suits the security detail at the metal detector gate, you might even have to submit them to visual inspection and clumsy rummaging.

The rule applies to all in this supposed age of terrorism — unless you’re a police official. In that case, your hand-carried bags won’t be checked, as indeed those of the members of the Philippine National Police delegation to the 77th Interpol General Assembly in St. Petersburg in Russia were not.

We have this on good authority. Airport customs collector Teresita Roque said so. What’s more, said Roque, none of the members of the delegation declared any excess currency, which if memory serves means anything in excess of US,000, which in rapidly devaluating pesos would be something like P480,000. Since former PNP comptroller Eliseo de la Paz claimed to be carrying out of the country 105,000 euros, or P6.9 million, someone was obviously in violation of the law.

Roque, however, raised a question no one else has had the imagination to raise. She said “We are not even sure that the money… came from here.” De la Paz claims that what he and his wife were caught trying to bring out of Russia last week represented a “cash advance” rather than the “contingency fund” other police officials as well as Interior and Local Governments Secretary Ronaldo Puno earlier claimed it was.

Whether contingency fund or cash advance, both assume that the euros de la Paz — rather, his wife — was caught with in Moscow originally came from Manila. Roque’s remark, however, suggests that it may have been picked up from elsewhere. The suspicious may be forgiven for thoughts of secret bank accounts abroad, and of someone’s carrying cash from one such account to Manila, rather than his carrying the cash from Manila to Russia and back again.

The amount was after all so outrageously out of proportion. It was out of proportion to whatever emergency needs the entire delegation may have had. It was out of proportion to the cost of staying in a five star hotel in the most expensive cities in the world (de la Paz sought to justify the amount by lamenting how costly everything was in St.Petersburg and Moscow).

But it was most of all out of proportion to the capacity of a country as poor as the Philippines; and out of proportion to the sorry state of police services and facilities in it. Even more so was it out of proportion to the hunger, the lack of housing, the shortfall in schoolrooms, the limited access to health care, and the other ills much of Filipino flesh is heir to.

That the money may have been picked up from elsewhere and may not have originated in Manila remains a distinct possibility, unless the PNP is able to produce the documentation that would first of all show that it did. That’s easier done than said in this country of corrupt judges, policemen and lawyers, where, just like political activists, documents including contracts with corporations owned by foreign governments can just as easily be made to disappear — or reappear.

Assuming that the money did originate from Manila, however, there are still all those questions that, were it not for de la Paz’ “forgetting” that he had all that money in his and his wife’s luggage, no one would be asking now. Were all those lovely euros government funds? If they were, was it legal for the PNP delegation via de la Paz to be carrying them ? If they weren’t, where did they come from? Could they have been, in the happy phrase of the unhappy Miriam Defensor Santiago, “from police patrons,” such as jueteng lords?

Santiago heads the Senate committee on foreign relations that’s going to ask de la Paz and the other members of the PNP delegation including their wives those questions, among others. The House of Representatives is also holding its own hearings, although it won’t be calling the wives to the witness stand.

While all this was going on, farmers had demonstrated at the gates of the PNP headquarters at Camp Crame, Quezon City last Monday in protest of the continuing police and military harassment of political activists as well as of the lawlessness the alleged guardians of law and order have been mocking this country and its citizens with lately.

Among other tactics as lethal as enforced disappearances, the harassments have consisted of PNP persistence in labeling party list and media groups as well as various labor, farmer, church, student and other organizations as “enemies of the state”. It still does that via the by now infamous but still extant military presentation by that name it periodically trots out to demonstrate how deeply committed it is to the social and political order that allows police generals to retire while attending an international conference and to carry enough money with them to buy, let alone stay in, a luxury hotel.

The Camp Crame demonstrators did not mention other harassments, such as dispersing with water cannon and batons public assemblies protected by Article III Section 4 of the Constitution, arresting people pasting protest posters on city walls, or handcuffing and detaining journalists for daring to cover an event the police think the media shouldn’t be covering.

They should have. The police have been very thorough in this respect, and have in fact been the strong arm of the Arroyo government in its attempt to silence criticism and prevent demonstrators from expressing themselves.

Which is why, during the Camp Crame demonstration, the police very quickly dispersed the protesters, even as their generals were concocting all sorts of implausible explanations to justify their need for de la Paz’ P6.9 million, plus an additional P2.3 million they had already been allowed by their so-called superiors in the Police Commission.

But the PNP generals, their wives and their kin shouldn’t be worrying. Even as the rest of the country gnashes its teeth, they have the assurance that they’ll get off easy, quite simply because the PNP is not just a police organization. It’s also a political organization whose existence is premised on its capacity to defend its political bosses from “the enemies of the state.” It’s an implant in its flesh, blood and bones. The “euro generals” will get away with this one. After all, what’s a few million between friends?


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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