Aquino, General Purisima and the past that binds them

 MANILA, Philippines – It was 1987, a turbulent year for the Philippines. The late Corazon Aquino, then the new president, was on her second year in office after a peaceful revolt that ended the Marcos dictatorship. But she had to constantly deal with armed threats to her presidency.

Military troops loyal to her crushed one mutiny after another. Security forces seized firearms from the armories of well-entrenched warlords.

It is a period that both Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III and Alan La Madrid Purisima remember too well.

A 1981 graduate of the Philippine Military Academy, Purisima was a young lieutenant at the elite Presidential Security Group (PSG) when he was assigned as the security aide of Cory Aquino's only son Noynoy, who would also become president.

Noynoy Aquino almost died in the 1987 botched coup when he was shot by rebel soldiers near Malacañang – a security nightmare for Purisima.

In 1989, rebel soldiers again mounted another bloody coup, and this time it came close to toppling Cory Aquino. Purisima was then operations officer of the PNP’s Special Action Force (SAF), which helped put down the mutiny.

These, as well as a lot of fun times together, form the bond that has sealed the friendship of Aquino and Purisima.

It's a friendship that's now put to test in the wake of corruption allegations and complaints against the former security aide who is now chief of the 150,000-strong Philippine National Police (PNP).

The young, carefree man that Purisima once secured in and out of the presidential palace is now his boss and commander in chief – and his staunchest supporter. (READ: Aquino defends Purisima: He is not luxurious or greedy)

Corruption charges

The PNP chief is the subject of two plunder complaints over alleged wrongdoing in the PNP. As a result, citizen groups have called on Aquino to fire Purisima, and Senator Grace Poe is urging him to take a leave.

Purisima is being linked to a controversial deal in the PNP’s Firearms and Explosives Office (FEO). He's also accused of not declaring the true worth of his mansion in Nueva Ecija and being unethical for accepting donations to renovate his official residence at Camp Crame, Quezon City, the so-called “White House.”

Not only that. He does not see eye to eye with his immediate superior, Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas, who is also a close friend and adviser of the President. 

In May this year, we wrote about persistent rumors that Purisima was on his way out. (Purisima is retiring in November 2015 yet - a long time to go.)

The police organization has been on tenterhooks since Purisima's relationship with Roxas began to deteriorate early this year. A group of officers is identified with the PNP chief, while another is allied with Roxas – and they squabble over appointments, programs, and plans in a low intensity conflict that Crame is accustomed to.

Aquino trusts both, however. And he has come to their defense whenever the two encountered problems. 

Buhat noon [1987] hindi na po matatawaran ang aming naging samahan at ugnayan. Mula man sa puder o sa katungkulan, alam naming masasandigan namin ang isa’t isa tungo sa tuwid at tama para sa ating mga kababayan,” Aquino said in 2012 when Purisima formally assumed the top post of the PNP. 

(Since then, nothing can compare to our friendship. Whether stemming from position or duty, we know we can trust each other to do what is right for our countrymen.) 

Purisima's boss at the PSG at the time was incumbent Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, a retired Army general (READ: Gazmin: The Untouchable)

How Purisima became PNP chief was also partly at the expense of one man.

In 2012, Aquino cut short the term of Purisima's predecessor, Nicanor Bartolome, just to make sure that Purisima would have enough time to prepare the PNP for the May 2013 mid-term elections.

(I have faith and trust that [Purisima] will side with what’s right and bring change to the PNP)

Lifestyle check

Amid the allegations against Purisima, the Palace promised there would be no sacred cows in chasing after corrupt members of the PNP.

“The President has always maintained that if there are allegations, file them in court and that person will answer. That [closeness] should not be an issue,” said Presidential spokesman Secretary Edwin Lacierda in a September 23 briefing with reporters.

The PNP is being criticized for the perceived rise in high-profile crimes in 2014, followed by the involvement of policemen in some of these crimes.

For instance, it was later revealed that some cops allegedly involved in a viral EDSA robbery and kidnapping incident were multimillionaires – their lifestyle inconsistent with what they earn in the PNP.

Reacting to public outrage, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) announced it would be conducting lifestyle checks on members of the PNP.

The PNP also said it would “adhere to the decision of our national leaders… in the interest of transparency and accountability, and as part of anti-corruption efforts in the organization.”

Those with “star ranks,” or the generals of the PNP would be the first to undergo the checks.

Fast rise

In a speech during the PNP’s change of command ceremony in 2012, Purisima said it was a “dream of a lifetime” to be PNP chief.

Sa lahat ng pagkakataon, tanging nasa Pangulo ng Republika ang pribilehiyo sa pagpili ng Hepe ng Pambansang Pulisya at ang kanyang pangunahing basehan sa pagpili ay yung makakatuwang niya sa kanyang mga layunin, adhikain at pangarap para sa ating bansa,” said Purisima.

(It is the President’s privilege to choose the PNP chief, someone who will help him achieve goals and dreams for the country.)

It was also in that speech where Purisima urged corrupt cops to leave the service.

Purisima was born in San Idelfonso, Ilocos Sur, to a technical sergeant of the defunct Philippine Constabulary and a public school teacher.

“His proud parents’ good upbringing and the frugal ways of rural Ilocano life had instilled early in him the values of perseverance, industry, dedication and love for simple but straight living. He helped his parents earn extra income by doing the chores of engaging in small poultry and hog raising, which he does before going to school in the morning,” reads his profile as the 97th Grand Master of Masons in the Jurisdiction of the Philippines.

Purisima was an engineering student in the Mapua Institute of Technology in Manila when he entered the PMA. Purisima said it's always been his dream to be a soldier or a law enforcer.

Some police officers who have seen Purisima's fast rise in the organization say that others are more qualified to head the PNP. Others point to perception of high living on the part of the PNP chief and officers close to him.

A police official told Rappler “morale is low” in the police force, following the controversies surrounded both the PNP and its top cop.

Even before allegations of corruption surfaced, Purisima became controversial over the transfer of a cop who led the team that arrested businessman Delfin Lee. Superintendent Conrad Capa openly criticized Purisima's decision to transfer him. Aquino came to Purisima's defense, chiding Capa for his “disservice” to the PNP

Ironically, Purisima and Capa had worked together in central Luzon.

The PNP chief is set to return by the weekend, said the PNP’s spokesman, Chief Superintendent Reuben Theodore Sindac. 

Sindac emphasized the filing of a case against the PNP chief “does not tantamount to guilt.” “The burden of proof rests on the complainants,” he told Rappler in a phone interview. 

Sindac said Purisima would address the issues in the proper forum and at the proper time. (READ: Grace Poe chides no-show PNP chief at Senate hearing)

It’s the same promise the PNP hierarchy gave reporters when Purisima was first accused of corruption over the renovation of the PNP’s official residence inside Camp Crame. (READ: Who funded the PNP chief’s ‘White House?’)

Back then the PNP denied it spent for the million-peso house, saying it was a donation from Purisima’s friends, including those who are Masons. Prodded on who the donors were, the PNP said their names would be revealed “in due time.” Their identities remain unknown to this day. – Rappler.com