Race for top PNP post heats up

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — THE race for the top Philippine National Police post to be vacated by Director General Avelino I. Razon Jr. on September 27 is in its final stretch with three senior officials engaged in the must watch competition- Deputy Director Generals Jesus A. Verzosa and Ismael R. Rafanan and Director Geary L. Barias.

Some quarters claim that the PNP chief wields such vast authority that he is even considered the second most powerful person in the country, next only to the President of the Republic of the Philippines who is also Commander-in- Chief.

“He is considered even more powerful than the Armed Forces Chief of Staff because he is involved in the day-to-day affairs of the state,” said a senior PNP official, now retired from the service on condition of anonymity.

With the tough job ahead, the three most important criteria in the selection of the next PNP chief are merit or the so-called track record and service reputation, fitness-physically, mentally and morally-and loyalty to the Constitution and the Government.

“Service reputation should be a prime factor in the selection as this involves perception by the internal and external audience on the capability of the PNP Chief to do the job,” the retired official said.

“A very good reputation is a must for the next PNP Chief because it means he has gained the trust and confidence of the people, the officers and men of the National Police and could motivate subordinates to do their job well knowing his character,” he added.

The official said another criterion that should be considered by the selecting committee is the outstanding contribution by the aspirant to the peace and order campaign of the Arroyo administration which has barely two years left.

“The next PNP chief, just like Gen. Razon who is retiring nearly two months from now, should have scored dramatic achievements in terms of helping the peace and order campaign of the government. This would indeed indicate he has a passion for excellence and a consummate desire to do his job with a dogged determination,” the retired official, an outstanding graduate of the elite Philippine Military Academy said.

Officials said that right now, the top three candidates for Razon’s post are Verzosa, the current PNP deputy chief for administration; Rafanan, the PNP Chief Directorial Staff; and Barias, the head of the National Capital Region Police Office.

The name of Deputy Director General Emmanuel R. Carta has also been floated as one of the candidates several months ago.

However, officials said that although President Arroyo has the sole prerogative to choose her PNP Chief, she has to consider the impending retirement of her appointee as well as the length of stay of that appointee.

“The appointment of the next PNP chief needs to be thoroughly examined due to two major factors. First, because it should not place the President in a bad light; and second, so as not to jeopardize the institution that is the PNP,” another official said.

The official said the appointment of now retired Gen. Edgar B. Aglipay is a case in point.

“He (Aglipay) had barely a month to go but was extended by the President for six months. Although the President had legal basis to do it, some sectors considered it ill-advised because it slowed down the professional advancement of officers in the ladder of promotion,” the official said.

“Moreover the very short period of his (Aglipay’s) administration was viewed by some quarters as not sufficient for him to carry out whatever programs he envisions to accomplish. Put simply, it has an impact on the morale of the Officers Corps,” he said.

The PNP Law states that no officer may be appointed as PNP Chief if he has already retired or is retirable within six months from his compulsory retirement age of 56.

The PNP Chief’s extension can only be allowed when there is a national emergency, the law says.

The bone of contention here is the retirement date of the four officials.

Verzosa, a member of PMA Class 1976 and the youngest of them will retire on December 25, 2010. Barias of PMA Class 1975 will retire on March 1, 2010 while Rafanan, also of PMA Class 1975 will retire on March 2, next year.

If Rafanan gets the post on Sept. 27, he nearly has six months to head the PNP although the possibility of an extension is not far-fetched.

If Barias gets it, he will have at least 18 months to lead the PNP. Should Verzosa get the post, he will have at least 21 months to head the PNP.

Officials explained that the reason for this is that the country will be having a new President on June 30, 2010.

“It’s most likely that the new president in June 30 will appoint a new chief, PNP unless he or she is convinced that the incumbent PNP chief did not support his or her rivals or played it fair,” one official who also spoke on condition of anonymity said.

There have been a number of scenarios being drawn by officials in Camp Crame regarding the race for the top PNP post.

There is the scenario that Gen. Razon might be extended for several months to pave the way for the smooth entry of Gen. Verzosa. Another scenario is that Rafanan, Barias and Verzosa may divide the next 21 months after Gen. Razon’s retirement, or what you call a ‘revolving door’ policy. Then there is the scenario that Rafanan might get a six-months extension after his 56th birthday on March 2, next year.

Another scenario is that Barias may assume the post on Sept. 27 and eat up the remaining months of Gen. Verzosa since in that case, the latter will only have three more months left to serve under the Arroyo government.

Two months ago, both Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo V. Puno and Philippine National Police chief Director General Avelino I. Razon Jr. agreed that it’s too early to talk about who will replace the latter at the helm of the PNP.

“That’s the discretion of the President. Wala akong alam na nangangampanya,” said Sec. Puno when asked by a member of the PNP Press Corps if he knows any police general who is campaigning to get the top PNP position at the moment.

Razon for his part said it is too early to talk about retirement as he is focusing on his job as the country’s top “Mamang Pulis.”

“My retirement date will come and the appropriate replacement will be announced at the appropriate time. But let’s not talk about it. We should talk about the peaceful observation of Labor Day unlike in some parts of Europe where there were violent demonstrations. We have to credit the Filipino people and the police for that,” Razon said then.

But last Friday, Sec. Puno told Camp Crame newsmen that the official who will replace Gen. Razon “is no longer a mystery” hinting that seniority among top PNP officials will be considered in the search for the next PNP chief. He was referring to Deputy Director General Jesus A. Verzosa, the PNP’s number 2 man being the PNP deputy chief for administration.

“If you look at the seniority linear roster, there are a specific number of these individuals in the ranking. (And) I think Gen. Verzosa is the strongest candidate considering the senior linear roster, rank and designation,” Puno said.

Everybody knows in Camp Crame that Sec. Puno is rooting for Gen. Verzosa to become the next PNP chief. Members of some junior PMA classes who spoke on condition of anonymity said that Sec. Puno had announced in their past meetings that Gen. Verzosa will be Gen. Razon’s replacement.

When Gen. Razon assumed his post on October 1 last year-the day Gen. Oscar C. Calderon retired as PNP chief — Sec. Puno said that seniority will still play a major part in the selection of the chief PNP. He made the remark when asked if Gen. Verzosa, being the PNP’s number two man, will automatically replace Gen. Razon.

Before President Arroyo’s arrival then, Sec. Puno also said that the others, including Director Geary L. Barias, who was then named Metro Manila police commander, will have to prove their worth first before they can be considered to the top PNP position.

Sec. Puno spoke a different tune last Friday as he hinted that Gen. Verzosa will be the next PNP chief.

“The responsibility and the knowledge of the people in higher positions is assumed and presumed to be greater than those in other positions. We can see the way the whole PNP leadership has been going in the past three years,” he said.

Sec. Puno said that they have adopted a policy that the choice for the next PNP chief will be limited to the Command Group — meaning the contenders will be Verzosa, Deputy Director General Emmanuel R.Carta, who is the deputy chief for operations, and Deputy Director General Ismael R. Rafanan, the PNP Directorial Staff chief.

“There has been no chance in that policy,” he said as he called on other aspirants to continue doing their job and not be distracted by their ambitions. In short, he was saying that Gen. Barias was out of the picture. Period.

Still, other officials say that although Sec. Puno is openly pushing for Verzosa, the fact remains that there are other close advisers of the President, from Cabinet members — some of them former PNP chiefs too, big-time politicians, big businessmen and even the Church and other religious groups who have their own candidates.

And then there is the President’s family, First Gentleman Jose Miguel T. Arroyo, their congressmen- sons, FG’s brother Negros Occidental Representative Ignacio ‘Iggy’ Arroyo and others. Officials said that right now, the top three candidates for Razon’s post are Verzosa, Rafanan and Barias.

The name of Carta, the PNP deputy chief for operations and a ‘mistah’ of Razon at the PMA Class 1974 has been ‘floated’ as another contender but officials said time is running up on him. They explained that from Sept. 27 this year, Carta will be having only 76 days before officially bowing out from the police service on January 1, 2009.

It means that should Carta be appointed as the next Chief,PNP, he has barely two months-and-a- half to lead the PNP unless he gets a term extension from the Chief Executive.

“Bear in your mind that this will not be a battle of the contenders but of their supporters. This will be a battle of personalities who have their own candidate in mind. And the President must have a Solomonic mind before making her decision here since her days in Malacanang are getting smaller and smaller every day,” another Peemayer long retired from the service said.

Will it be Deputy Director Gen. Jesus A. Verzosa or Deputy Director Gen. Ismael R. Rafanan? Or will it be Director Geary L. Barias?

Who will the fountain bless?

The three are considered serious contenders for the top Philippine National Police post to be vacated by Director General Avelino I. Razon Jr. when he retires from the service at the age of 56 this coming September 27.

All three have outstanding track records, service reputation and unquestionable loyalty to the Constitution and to the Arroyo government.

Here is a glimpse of their character and track records:

Gen. Jess Verzosa, a member of Philippine Military Academy Class of 1976 rose to fame for his anti-crime accomplishments when he was still with the defunct Criminal Investigation Service and later the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.

He is currently the PNP deputy chief for administration and concurrent executive director of the PNP Program Management Office, the unit overseeing the PNP Integrated Transformation Program.

The 53-year old Verzosa is a true-blue police operative who cracked some of the country’s worst crimes in his younger days. Also known as ‘Bigote’ in police circles, Verzosa got promoted meritoriously four times.

He was a constabulary 2nd Lt. when promoted to 1st Lt for his role in the neutralization of the Light-A-Fire Movement during the Marcos administration. Later, he got promoted from Captain to Major for neutralizing three notorious ‘Akyat-Bahay’ syndicates operating in Metro Manila.

When he joined the PNP in 1991, he was promoted to the rank of Senior Superintendent from Superintendent for busting some of the country’ most wanted criminals including Guillermo Panganiban, then one of the country’s most wanted.

Part of his promotion to the rank of Senior Superintendent was also attributed to his role in the solution of the Calauan,Laguna rape and double slay case which resulted in the arrest and conviction of then Calauan Mayor Antonio Sanchez who is still anguishing at the Bilibid Prisons.

He was the deputy CIDG chief when he was promoted to Chief Superintendent for neutralizing scores of mot wanted kidnappers in the country.

“Raffy” to his peers, Rafanan, a classmate at PMA Class 1975 of Barias and currently the PNP Chief Directorial Staff, the 4th-highest position in the PNP, is considered as the ‘dark horse’ in the race.

Known in the PNP Officers Corps as one of the senior officials with very close ties to the First Family, Rafanan used to be the director of the Police Regional Office 3 in Central Luzon, the Macapagal’s bailiwick. He also used to be the director of the PNP Intelligence Group under which he led a series of operations that resulted in the capture of some of the country’s and even Asia ’s most wanted terrorists and criminals.

Rafanan is known to have some aces up his sleeves following his stint as the country’s top spook where he became instrumental in the neutralization of some major Southeast Asian terrorist cells operating in The Philippines. He has been credited with smashing these terrorist pipelines in Mindanao and stopping the flow of their financial support coming from their financiers abroad.

Rafanan authored some of the country’s top-secret anti-terrorist operations that netted most wanted members of the al-Qaeda-backed Jemaah Islamiyah, the Abu Sayyaf and the Rajah Solaiman Movement hiding in Metro Manila and other parts of Mindanao and the Visayas.

This veteran intelligence officer is expected to spring a surprise just like retired Gen. Arturo C. Lomibao, who also happened to be a former PNP-IG director, a Central Luzon police chief and later, PNP Chief Directorial Staff before he was appointed the country’s top cop in 2005. Will Lomibao’s history repeat itself in the case of Rafanan?

Then there is Gen. Geary Barias, the current chief of the National Capital Region Police Office who earned President Arroyo’s admiration for his skillful handling of three major incidents that rocked the country last year: the Glorietta 2 gas explosions that killed 21 people and wounded over 100 others; the Batasan Pambansa bombing that killed six persons including Basilan Representative Wahab Akbar; and the infamous Manila Peninsula siege staged by rebel soldiers led by jailed Senator Antonio Trillanes IV.

A veteran anti-narcotics officer just like Gen. Razon, Barias catapulted into national fame and to the consciousness of the Filipino people after these three headline-chugging incidents-who can forget the scene where Barias is dragging a meek Sen. Trillanes into a police van shortly after his surrender, add to them the major anti-government rallies in Metro Manila which all ended up peacefully. He is said to have endeared himself to the Chief Executive who now calls him ‘Richard Geary,’ a takeoff from Hollywood star Richard Gere.

Barias has commanded two regional offices, the Police Regional Office 3 in Caraga and the PRO6 in Western Visayas. He later became the head of the Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management and concurrent chief of the PNP Task Force Usig and the PNP Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operations Task Force. He had a short stint as PNP Director for Comptrollership until he decided to leave it and go to the NCRPO which he said will be his battleground in the race for the top PNP post.

These are the generals whose hands lie the future of the PNP in the next 21 months after Gen. Razon’s retirement. What is at stake here is not only their image and integrity but the image and integrity of the entire police organization and the country as well.