The President is Commander-in-Chief of the PNP

“The Chain of Command was violated.  The President, the suspended CPNP Purisima and the former Director, SAF Napenas kept the information to themselves and deliberately failed to inform the OIC, PNP and the SILG.  The Chain of Command should be observed in pursuing mission operations.”

Although in the passive voice where the focus is on the subject—Chain of Command- and not in the active voice where the emphasis would have been on the actor—President - Justice Secretary Leila de Lima must have been shocked and surprised upon reading above-quoted statement on pages 9-10 (Executive Summary) of the PNP Board of Inquiry Report on the Mamasapano Incident.   Shocked and surprised because she never expected that  such  a bold and frank statement – a virtual indictment of the President of the Philippines – could come from the members of the PNP Board of Inquiry (BOI), composed of officers of the PNP who, in the usual and ordinary course of things would have been deferential to the President of the Philippines not only out of respect for the position he holds but also for the more pragmatic reason that their future in the police service depends on the President.

After recovering from some moments of stunned silence, de Lima, instead of  reading the BOI Report further, hurriedly prepared a written statement for the press assailing the Report for starting on the “wrong premise” that the President of the Philippines is the Commander-in-Chief of the Philippine National Police.  In her haste to defend her President, de Lima forgot that on at least two occasions, President Aquino referred to himself as the Commander-in-Chief of the PNP.

At the graduation rites of  the 2013 graduating class of the Philippine National Academy on March 22, 2013, attended by top officials of the PNP and policemen from various parts of the country,  he declared in his Commencement Speech that: “Malinaw po ang atas ko bilang Commander-in-Chief at hindi optional ang pagsunod sa batas. Wala akong sisinuhin sa nagtitigas-tigasan pa rin sa ating kautusan.”

In his address to the nation of February 6, 2015 following  the  massacre  of  44 PNP-SAF Commandos on January 25, 2015 at Mamasapano, Aquino re-asserted his role as Commander-in-Chief of the PNP, thus: “As President and Commander-in-Chief, I am fully responsible for any result—any triumph, any suffering, and any tragedy—that may result from our desire for lasting peace and security.”

Citing  the  February 14, 1992 decision of the Supreme Court in the case of “Carpio versus Executive Secretary”, de Lima asserted that  “the President is not the Commander-in-Chief of the PNP. He is not the PNP Commander-in-Chief because under the 1987 Constitution, the PNP is no longer part of the armed forces. The President is only Commander-in-Chief in relation to the armed forces. The PNP, being a civilian agency, is not part of the armed forces.”

De Lima probably thought that nobody would take the initiative or bother to read the Carpio case,  hence her statement would remain un-contradicted.  She was miserably mistaken because I did exactly the opposite of what she had in mind and this is what  I found out.

In the Carpio case, the Supreme Court ruled that the President of the Philippines is the Commander-in-Chief of the Philippine National Police pursuant to his power of  control over all executive departments, bureaus and offices—which include the PNP; and of his power of supervision over local governments.  The Supreme Court reached this conclusion based on the answers of Commissioner Teodulo Natividad to the interpellation of Commissioner Francisco Rodrigo during the October 1, 1986 deliberation of the 1986 Constitutional Commission  on  what is now Art. XVI, Sec. 6 of the 1987 Constitution providing for the establishment and maintenance of one police force national in scope but civilian in character.  Commissioner Natividad was  the sponsor  the draft of said provision.  Commissioner Nativad  stressed that the President is the Commander-in-Chief of the national police not under the specific constitutional provision making him the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces but under his power of control over all executive offices and his power of supervision over local governments.

The statement in the Carpio decision “that the national police force does not fall under the Commander-in-Chief  powers  of the President” was made, in answer to, and in order to dispose of,  the contention of petitioner Castro that  Sec. 12 of Republic Act No. 6975 which established the Philippine National Police under a reorganized Department of Interior  and Local Government, is  an “encroachment upon, interference with, and an abdication by the President of, executive control and commander-in-chief powers.”  Under the cited provision, within 24 months from the effectivity of R. A. 6975 “ the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) shall continue its present role of preserving the internal and external security of the State: Provided, that said period may be extended by the President, if he finds it justifiable, for another period not exceeding twenty-four (24) months, after which, the Department (of Interior & Local Government)  shall automatically take over from the AFP the primary role of preserving internal security, leaving to the AFP its primary role of preserving external  security.”

Secretary de Lima’s reliance on the Carpio decision is, therefore, totally misplaced.

Not content with misinterpreting the Supreme Court decision in the Carpio case, de Lima then resorted to a play of words by stating that: “In relation to the PNP, the President is the Chief Executive, in the same way that  he acts as the Chief Executive to all the civilian agencies of the Executive bureaucracy.”  By referring to the President of the Philippines as “Chief Executive”, the implication is there are other executives in the executive department and the President of the Philippines is  only  their  “chief”.  But the Philippine Constitution, to paraphrase Justice Jose P. Laurel in the case of “Villena versus Secretary of Interior”, created a singular, not a plural executive when that very Constitution vested executive power on the President of the Philippines.  This means the President of the Philippines is the Executive, and no other; not even the department secretaries whom the President appoints and  serves at his pleasure.

Time and again, Secretary de Lima has been  very quick in defending his President.  This is, therefore, a good occasion as any to remind her  that  under the 1987 Administrative Code (Executive Order No. 292, dated July 25, 1987), the principal  mandate of the Department of Justice which she heads is—among others-  “act as principal law agency of the government and as legal counsel and representative thereof xxx” (Title III, Chapter I, Sections 2 and 3).  Consequently,  as Secretary of the DOJ, the  primary authority and responsibility for the exercise of the mandate of her Department and for the discharge of its powers and functions is vested on her (Book IV, Chapter 2, Section 6).  To repeat and emphasize, therefore,  as Attorney General of the Republic of the Philippines by virtue of her position as Secretary of Justice, Secretary de Lima is the legal counsel of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines;  not the legal counsel of President Benigno Simeon Aquino, III. 

She should, therefore, act as Secretary of Justice; not as SECRETARY OF JUSTIFICATION!


Jose Oliveros is a member of the Philippine Bar.

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