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Open and shut

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It’s not surprising that the controversial birthday boy General Debold Sinas has been retained in his post as head of the National Capital Region (NCR) police force. Many had wanted him out for partying with his men on his natal day while everybody was not supposed to do so  in line with social distancing as part of the lockdown rules.

Like a chess player who has learned the trick  and relishes it, Sinas has made a move contrary  to the fundamental rules of the game. Sometimes it works, mating your opponent’s king in 8 moves . Sometimes it doesn’t because the trick can be tricky.

Anybody who has carefully studied President Duterte in the last three years or so would have expected this unhappy conclusion. Sinas may be something else in the public eye, he’s Duterte’s man, period. There’s a popular word for it , but I leave it to those familiar with  it to just grin and bear it. It’s the way it is, folks.

For one, there’s such a thing as RHIP, rank has its privilege, and it’s embossed in military vocabulary. I heard this term first and last from a retired general I worked for at Clark after it became an economic zone run by the Philippine government.

Intuitively, I knew what it meant. There’s hierarchy in the scheme of things and someone deserves something more  the higher he reaches the ladder, almost like Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It’s a given, in other words. It’s normal, you earned it by meritocracy or something else. Remember the famous Imeldific quote? Some people are just smarter than others.

But some people mistake privileges for principles, and it’s a slippery slope. The late Dwight Eisenhower said people who value their privileges over their principles will eventually lose both.

About three decades ago, the late Gov. Bren Z. Guiao and his staff were having lunch at the popular Everyboby’s Cafe in San Fernando and when a familar bulk of man now much older caught his sight. “Isn’t that General Tanabe?”, he asked his security men.  His chief security confirmed  he it was and, immediately, upon Guiao’s instruction, went to Tanabe and said that Guiao was inviting him to join the group.

During the course of a brief conversation, Tanabe observed rather sadly that  the officers in the police force were now different from  those during his time, implying that something had gone wrong.  He spoke of a certain general in his time who was renting an apartment when he entered the service, and still was renting the same apartment after he retired.   I don’t remember what triggered his comparative lamentation.

Would Tanabe say the same thing today? It’s anybody’s guess. In the case of Sinas, another former general and graduate of the Philippine Military Academy, has advised  the embattled general in his column in a national daily that stepping down was the right thing to do.   “If his apology has to take a greater meaning, ” Ramon Farolan wrote, ” Sinas must resign. “

It’s not that simple, according to Sinas’ colleagues in the PNP. No less than PNP Chief Archie Gamboa has said so. ” It would be difficult to replace him,” he said.   Difficult doesn’t mean impossible  but may not be expedient. Besides, delicadeza isn’t much ingrained  in our culture, military  or civilian.     

The bigger picture is, when Duterte sends a message across, one must read the message in the message. It is safe to assume that he has  better plans for Sinas to keep him in his  graces rather than  oblige the momentary strident call to crack the whip. The whip is only for his enemies, not his allies.

His plan for Sinas, of course, is consistent with his other plans as the ultimate power wielder in this divided republic.  Power is about control, so said the German general Amon Goet in the film Schindler’s List.  He needs Sinas and others like him to do that.  It’s doesn’t take a rocket scientist to explain why the current lockdown is headed by retired generals when the so’called war is about eliminating the invisible virus rather than shooting people.

For instance, when most people thought the Cha-Cha campaign was already put in the backburner, suddenly it came up to the surface that the Department of the Interior and Loca Government was cladestinely pursuing it through a signature campaign to gather at least 2 million names.  When it was denied as fake news, documents were shown to prove it.  But the Nile, as they say, is not only a river in Egypt. What’s public is propaganda ( translation:lie), what is policy is private(translation: secret), Edgar Hoover, first director of the U.S. FBI,  said.

So, there must be more than meets the eye in Duterte’s keeping Sinas to, not simply on,  his side.

And it’s not a comforting thought to those with buck teeth and protruding jaws like the opposition Chel Diokno whose default mind is to tell it like it is when democracy is in peril.  There is nothing wrong with his buck tooth or his long jaw — not even his being a “dilawan”. It’s not fair to say that Duterte is partisan. The way I look at it,  he gives more  weight to  the personal or tribal. Just look at the people around him.  He doesn’t mind, like China’s Deng Shiao Ping what the color of the cat is as long as it catches mice. By simple definition, a mouse is someone who disagrees.

One remembers the popular joke about former General  Fabian Ver during Martial Law  in the country. When Marcos allegedly ordered Ver to jump from a building, the latter supposedly asked “which floor, sir”.

RHIP and the  oft-quoted military rule that you obey first before you complain may run along parallel tracks which, at some point like railroad tracks, intersect  toward different directions.

History, of course, is replete with stories of express trains derailed.  In the real world, mortality is about ultimately facing judgment, which is personal and less tribal or partisan, not only in this life but after.

Moral choice, as Farolan suggested, is  the higher, safer path. Unfortunately, it’s the road less taken most of the time when,as the American poet Robert Frost intimated, it would have made the difference.

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