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This interview was done on August 1, 2016, three weeks before the senate hearing on extra-judicial killings chaired by Sen. Leila de Lima, one of President Rodrigo Duterte's most vocal critic of the death toll on our current war on drugs. Some of the questions here were asked at the senate inquiry as well, confirming them as national concerns. You saw the PNP chief slog it through two grueling days of explaining and justifying the actions of the police as well as their efforts to resolve “deaths under investigation” (the use of the term “extra-judicial killing” had been a thorny issue right at the beginning of the hearing).

Philippine National Police Director General Ronald Dela Rosa was true to form at the senate—brawny, not one to mince words, sometimes funny. The same man we saw at his office in camp crame, and funnier by several notches. But maybe not as mythic as people make him out to be. He was all too human when we saw him—in the course of the interview, he was coughing sick. Inside his mammoth chest, common viruses were eating him up. “Halos wala na akong tulog ,” he complained of the stress of the job.

First off, we want to re-introduce you to our young readers. So sir, who are you?
Ako ay isang pulis probinsya, ordinaryong tao, at walang ibang hangarin kundi makatulong para sa pagbabago. At yun nga, ang ating bansa ngayon ay lugmok sa droga, kriminalidad at korupsyon, at sana ang isang pulis probinsya na andito ngayon sa harapan n’yo ay makatulong para sa pagbabago ng bansa.

'Ako ay isang pulis probinsya, ordinaryong tao, at walang ibang hangarin kundi makatulong para sa pagbabago. At yun nga, ang ating bansa ngayon ay lugmok sa droga, kriminalidad at korupsyon, at sana ang isang pulis probinsya na andito ngayon sa harapan n’yo ay makatulong para sa pagbabago ng bansa'

Is there a difference between a pulis probinsya and one from Manila?
Magiging bias ako ‘no, [pero] sa aking paningin, nakikita po natin na yung pulis probinsya, siya po yung pulis na totoong nagaalagad, nagseserbisyo, at malinis yung kalooban at puso. Kasi pag pulis sa syudad—marami kasing kasalanan na nangyayari rito sa syudad di ba? Andito yung mga vices, maraming bisyo, andito yung mga sugal, maraming droga. Most likely—hindi naman natin nilalahat—pero malaking tendency talaga na yung pulis natin ma-taint yung kanyang reputasyon dahil sa operational environment na kanyang ginagalawan.

Do you mind if we ask you how old you are?
54 years old. Do I look that old?

Ronald Dela Rosa, PMA Batch 86

Yun nga sir, we were just trying to establish the fact that you are a very young top PNP official. We’d like to know how you were as a teenager. This would be in the mid-‘70s—di ba sir nung time na yun usung-uso ang mga drugs like marijuana and drinking cough syrup?! So sir, what were you up to when you were a teenager?
To tell you frankly, buong pagkaestudyante ko, high school to college, sa college lang ako nakatikim ng marijuana. Nakatikim ako ng marijuana—twice. Dalawang gabi, yun lang. Yun lang experience ko with drugs—marijuana, twice, dalawang gabi. Pupula yung mata mo pagkatapos mo maghithit ng marijuana, pagkatapos kakanta ng folk song dun sa dormitory, mga Neil Young (breaks into song), “Four strong winds that go lonely…” Yun lang.

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Neil Young—astig! So that’s all you were into—music. Apart from those two nights on weed…
Oo, music.

Were you already bent on joining the police force back then?
Hindi pa. Ang pangarap ko talaga, mag-sundalo. Kaya ako napasok sa PMA. Elementary pa lang ako pangarap ko nang maging sundalo.

What made you want to become a soldier?
Maliit pa lang ako nasa kalooban ko nang magserbisyo, makipag-gyera sa masasamang tao. Maliit pa lang ako gustung-gusto ko na yung mga war stories—makikipag-gyera ka sa mga invader ng iyong bansa, sa mga masasamang tao.

Were you like Captain America—a reed-thin military recruit who became a specimen of perfect manhood? Payatot ka ba dati, sir?
Oo. Tingnan mo yung mga picture ko nung maliit pa ako—actually hindi naman gaano ka-malnourished, pero minsan once a day lang makakain dahil mahirap talaga kami. Kasi sa amin sa Brgy. Bato (Santa Cruz, Davao Del Sur), although wala kayong pagkain dun sa hapag-kainan, pero pag lumabas ka sa bahay niyo, punta ka sa likod, may makita kang saging na nakatayo, may mangga, bayabas, may mga niyog, pwede kang umakyat sa niyog para kumuha ng niyog at kainin. Ganon ang buhay namin noon. You can survive kahit walang steady income ang pamilya mo.

So how did you beef up like that? Paano kayo naging Bato sir?
Nung high school na kasi ako sumasali ako ng boxing, mga interschool competition ng boxing, dun nag-start mag-build up ang aking katawan.

Is boxing still your regular workout regimen? Do you still have time for it?
Well, lagi akong nagbo-boxing tuwing hapon diyan sa gym ng Crame.

Because a lot of funny pictures with you in it are appearing on our feeds, we wonder if there is someone managing your social media accounts.
Ay ano, bigyan natin ng warning yung mga taong magbabasa, maraming naglabasan na Facebook accounts using my name. Actually dalawa lang yung akin diyan—yung akin na pang personal talaga tsaka yung akin na pang public. Dalawa lang yan, isang Ronald Dela Rosa at yung pang public na Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa.

Sir, is the public account the one where you’re holding a gun?
Oo, yung may hawak, yun ako yun. Tapos yung isa naman, yung caricature, yun yung personal ko. Yung drawing lang na caricature ng kalbong pulis, ako yun. Dalawa lang ang sa‘kin, gawa-gawa na yung iba.

So are you active on Facebook?
Noon, nung hindi pa ako Chief ng PNP, I had all the time to engage in Facebook. Pero ngayon, Chief PNP na ako, wala na, wala ng time. Galit na nga yung mga fans ko dun, mga ilang libong messages na yun hindi ko na-o-open, galit na. Eh yung cellphone ko nga lang hindi ko ma-open sa isang araw, 1,200 messages. Yung kabila naman—Smart tsaka Globe yun eh—bago ako matulog, i-o-open ko, babasahin ko, from 1,200 bababa ng mga 900, matutulog ako, paggising ko kinabukasan 1,200 na naman ulit! Nagagalit na yung iba dahil hindi ko mabasa yung kanilang messages.

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Why don’t you hire a social media manager?
Paminsan-minsan yung anak ko. Yung public ko na Facebook, yung anak ko ang tumitingin doon. Kung may kailangan akong i-address, they call my attention agad. Pero yung cellphone ko, baka mabasa ng anak ko, baka merong magtext doon na “tsup tsup tsup I miss you!”, ganon. Patay ako sa misis ko. 

On cue, sir. So, sino ang mas heneral, ikaw o si Mam?
Si Misis.

How is your typical day at home, say, on a weekend?
Maghihintay ako ng iuutos ni misis sa‘kin. Sabihin nun “magluto ka,” magluluto ako. Sabihin nun “i-fix mo yung higaan” I-fi-fix ko yung higaan.

Are your kids all grown up?
Malaki na mga anak ko. Wala na sa kanilang high school. Dalawang graduate na babae at isang graduating ng college, youngest ko na lalaki.

Are they in public service as well?
Yung eldest ko, nurse. Balak niyang mag-abroad. Tapos yung pangalawa, nasa real estate business.

ON BIG ISSUES

Okay, sir, so this is the part where we ask the big questions.
Sige.

We’d like to start with the issue of vigilantism. Who are these people behind the extra-judicial killings?
Dalawa lang yan, either s’ya ay totoong vigilante, na talagang frustrated, ramdam nila na niloloko lang nitong mga drug personalities, itong ating justice system, na kaya nilang mabayaran yung mga members like pulis, fiscals, judges, the correction officers, so frustrated itong mga tao na ito. Ang isa naming possible na suspek ay iyong mga hindi vigilantes, yung mga member talaga ng mga criminal syndicates na involved sa droga. Kasi maraming mga ka-kompetensya, isang syudad, sila may-ari, sila may hawak ng drugs, ini-eliminate nila yung mga kakompetensya nila, member ng syndicate mismo, na hindi makapag-remit ng pera, na binigyan nila ng supply ng drugs, in return hindi nakapagbayad, ayun ipapapatay nila yun. So dalawa ang possible diyan: pure vigilante or criminal syndicate.

'Dalawa lang yan, either s’ya ay totoong vigilante, na talagang frustrated, ramdam nila na niloloko lang nitong mga drug personalities, itong ating justice system, na kaya nilang mabayaran yung mga members like pulis, fiscals, judges, the correction officers, so frustrated itong mga tao na ito. Ang isa naming possible na suspek ay iyong mga hindi vigilantes, yung mga member talaga ng mga criminal syndicates na involved sa droga.'

What is your official stand on vigilantes: kakampi ba sila o kalaban?
Kalaban. Although we hate the same enemy.

What steps are you taking to bring these vigilantes—your enemies—to justice?
Imbestigahan.

On the issue of mistaken identity: there are reports of people being killed allegedly for involvement in drugs, but stories from relatives, friends, and people who knew some of those killed say they were innocent. What is your take?
Daw. They have to prove na talagang mistaken identity yon. Otherwise, pag hindi niyo maprove yan, I presume na ang ginagawa ng ating kapulisan ay regular. I presume always the regularity of our duty. They need to prove it, and [the police] have to face the charges, harapin nila yun kung nagkamali sila. Ganon lang yun.

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On the drug watchlist: there are reports of people who have not been involved in drugs—either as a user or a pusher—whose names end up on the list. Some say they ended up on the list because they knew someone or were related to someone who was involved in drugs. These “innocent” people are forced to go to barangays to clear their names.
Well, that’s a grave injustice on their part. Kaya lang ang ating advice na gagawin nila, is pumunta sa barangay mismo at presinto na nakakakilala sa mga drug addicts at hindi. At sa police station naman, i-validate nila yan.

Some sectors feel that it’s like a witch hunt, an Inquisition, and there is a sense of unease. We wonder if you gave barangays a quota—like, they have to produce a certain number of people on the watch list because, honestly, the numbers are staggering.
Hindi. Kailangan yung totohanan na kaya binavalidate namin yan, kasi minsan baka kagalit lang nung nag-report kaya nalagay sa listahan. Minsan barangay kapitan mismo ang may makasarili na pag-iisip kaya kailangan talaga bina-validate. So pag na-validate ng pulis, it’s either madagdagan or mabawasan. Pag nakita naman ng pulis na meron palang personality doon na kababata pala ni Kapitan kaya hindi isinama sa watch list, ilalagay ng pulis yun. That’s the process.

What is your stand on the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes?
I’ll leave it to the congress. Kung gawin man ng Congress ng batas na legal yan, so be it. I will follow the law. Depende na sa Congress yan kung anong gagawin nila. We are not the lawmakers, we are law enforcers. We just enforce the law kapag meron na, ano mang batas yan.

The way the war on drugs is going, it’s as though the police have got too much power on their hands. Do you think it is right for some people to fear the police? For some, it eerily reminds them of Martial Law in the ‘70s.
Martial Law [in the ‘70s] and today is very different. Noong Martial Law grabe yung power n’yan, not the power of the police but the power of the military. Military ang naghahari noon. Kami mismo, ang father ko mismo biktima ng military abuse during Martial Law. Sinaktan at binugbog ang father ko. Ngayon naman [we don’t have] Martial Law, agresibo lang ang mga pulis natin against drugs. So iba po ang sitwasyon. Noon maraming sibilyan ang nasasaktan. Eh ngayon meron bang case ng sibilyan na binugbog ng pulis? Very rare. [Although at the senate hearing, the case of suspected drug personalities Renato and Jaypee Bertes, who were allegedly beaten up and killed inside the Pasay City Police Station, was taken up—ed.]

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'Martial Law [in the ‘70s] and today is very different. Noong Martial Law grabe yung power n’yan, not the power of the police but the power of the military. Military ang naghahari noon. Kami mismo, ang father ko mismo biktima ng military abuse during Martial Law. Sinaktan at binugbog ang father ko. Ngayon naman [we don’t have] Martial Law, agresibo lang ang mga pulis natin against drugs. So iba po ang sitwasyon. Noon maraming sibilyan ang nasasaktan'

This question is on behalf of those who have kids: What will they say to their children when they watch you on TV and you declare that “papatayin ko yung mga sangkot sa iligal na droga”? What if the kids themselves say “papatayin ko yan” when they see an alleged pusher in the news? Do we say “that is the right thing to do”?
No. Mali yun. It’s illegal, it’s immoral. Ipaliwanag mo sa kanila na “Anak, meron tayong batas na sinusunod.” Kung pusher ba yan na nagva-violate ng batas, hulihin mo. Hulihin in a sense na, hulihin mo para harapin nila yung kanilang ginawang offense sa batas. In the process, hinuhuli mo tapos lumaban, and in danger yung buhay mo, then you have to decide kung kaninong buhay ang ipe-preserve mo, buhay ng kriminal o buhay mo? So you have to preserve your own life. That’s self defense, you have to defend your life, darating sa punto na yan talagang kinakailangan mo siyang patayin, kung di mo siya papatayin, ikaw ang papatayin niya—hahantong kayo sa ganon. Ipaliwanag mo na “papatayin yan ni Chief Bato kapag yan ay lumaban. Otherwise kung hindi lalaban yan, hindi yan mapapatay, huhulihin niya lamang yan. Sabihin mong hindi yan sasaktan ni Chief Bato kung hindi yan manlalaban, kung hindi niya pag-iinterasan ang buhay ni Chief Bato.

So why the violent rhetoric?
It’s my strategy to extend fear sa mga criminals—that’s the only language they know. Hindi pwedeng when we talk about crime, we will be there to present ourselves as meek as a lamb, na parang harmless ka na tao. You should act to be in control. Kinakatakutan ka dapat kasi you are talking about crimes, hindi ka pwedeng palamya-lamya na pulis. Ganun ang aking pamamaraan.

Photography Jake Verzosa

This story originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of FHM Philippines.

Some edits were made by the FHM.com.ph editors.

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