The high-stakes battle for the top post at the Philippine National Police may have reached a decisive point, with the Speaker of the House of Representatives joining the lobbying among the allies of President Aquino.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., vice chair of the ruling Liberal Party, has written to the President endorsing Chief Supt. Raul D. Petrasanta, Central Luzon police director, as PNP chief, replacing resigned Director General Alan Purisima.
The most serious threat to Petrasanta's rise to the top post is Deputy Director General Marcelo P. Garbo Jr., who reportedly has the backing of Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, the overseer of the PNP.
Roxas and his office did not reply to the Inquirer's request for comment.
Another strong candidate is Director Benjamin B. Magalong of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, reportedly backed by former Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who is also a former PNP chief.
The other candidates are Director Ricardo Marquez and Director Juanito B. Vano.
Vano is reportedly backed by Purisima.
The Office of the Ombudsman suspended Purisima, Petrasanta and 17 other PNP officials in December last year while the investigation of alleged sale of 1,004 AK-47 rifles to the communist New People's Army (NPA) by the PNP was going on.
Petrasanta returned from suspension on June 4.
Purisima, a close friend of President Aquino, resigned in February at the height of the PNP and Senate investigation of a deadly clash between police commandos and Moro rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, on Jan. 25.
But he did not resign from the service, deciding to serve until his retirement in November.
Purisima keeps his rank of director general, standing in the way of the promotion of Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, the acting PNP chief, to the highest post on the force.
Under the Philippine National Police Law, only the PNP chief may hold the rank of director general. Espina retires next month.
Based on performance
In a text message to the Inquirer on Sunday, Belmonte said he had endorsed Petrasanta to President Aquino as replacement for Purisima.
"I endorsed him based on his performance during my [term as mayor of] Quezon City. His advantage is being from a later class, he will bring stability to the leadership; it will not be an in-and-out situation," Belmonte said.
Among the contenders, Petrasanta, a member of Philippine Military Academy Class of 1984, has the longest remaining tenure as he will not retire until June 2017 while the rest of the candidates will retire between 2015 and 2016.
Petrasanta served as commander of Station 2 in the Quezon City Police District from November 2004 to January 2007 while Belmonte was serving the middle of his three straight terms as mayor.
Even before getting Belmonte's support, Petrasanta was already considered the strongest of the officials in the running for PNP chief. Petrasanta has close personal ties with President Aquino, having been one of the trusted aides of the late President Corazon Aquino and her family since 1986.
No role in AK-47 scandal
In recommending Petrasanta, Belmonte cleared him of culpability in the alleged sale of AK-47s to the NPA during his time as head of the PNP Firearms and Explosives Office (FEO).
Belmonte said that the House committee on public order and safety conducted a probe on the AK-47 controversy and it found no sufficient evidence to support claims that the NPA paid for the Russian-made assault rifles.
Belmonte said the committee also found that the procedure in licensing the firearms was followed.
He said that as head of the FEO, Petrasanta initiated the "Oplan Katok" programme to smoke out unlicensed firearms ahead of the 2013 elections.
The PNP chief is widely expected to play a vital role in next year's national elections.
Aside from ensuring peace nationwide and keeping the police force from engaging in partisan politics, the PNP chief is assigned to handle high-risk areas such as the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.