The 'Dragon' bows out: Magalong retires from PNP

Jeff Canoy, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 14 2016 10:02 PM

The 'Dragon' bows out: Magalong retires from PNP 1
Photo by Jeff Canoy, ABS-CBN News

MANILA – Police Director Benjamin Magalong goes by many names.

In the 160,000-strong Philippine National Police (PNP), he's currently known as the Deputy Chief for Operations, or the third man in the PNP chain of command.

Friends and his "mistah" from the Philippine Military Academy fondly call him "Benjie" or "Maggyboy", yet there was a point in his career that subordinates knew him simply as the "Dragon".

"I felt like I was likened to some sort of 'fire-eating, blood-curdling, kick-boxing-officer,” Magalong said.

“One of my former staff [members] confided that he once wrote down his observation that I had that ‘distinct military air’ with a ferocity that could make working with me nerve-wracking, and [as] stressful as it was inspiring."

"He said that there were times I appeared threatening to them, that I looked like a boss who eats cannonballs for breakfast."

It's a perception that Magalong had long tried to change, as he felt that fear wasn't an effective leadership tool. Upon hearing his moniker, he said that it dawned on him that in order to lead, humility had to trump authority.

This message is what Magalong imparted to the PNP as he bid goodbye to the service on Wednesday, December 14.

Magalong, a native of Pangasinan, joined the now-defunct Philippine Constabulary right after graduating magna cum laude from the Philippine Military Academy’s "Sandigan" Class of 1982. He was assigned to Abra as part of a combat post against insurgents.

He would later climb the ranks as regional director of the Cordillera police and chief directorial staff of the PNP's Special Action Force (SAF). His most high-profile post was as Chief of the PNP's Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.

"I became a public servant-leader who is below, rather than above people. I learned to maintain a 'gentle authority slope'—[and be] a leader who considers others before himself," Magalong said.

"It became [about] putting the needs of others above my own. It was about giving value to humility instead of authority, [and] pursing the truth instead of falsehood."

This pursuit of truth, however, was what put Magalong in hot water several times during his career.

The most notable was his investigation into the deaths of 44 elite police troopers in a SAF operation against terrorists Zulkifli Bin Hir and Abdul Basit Usman in Mamasapano, Maguindanao in 2015.

Magalong led the eight-member PNP Board of Inquiry that held former President Benigno Aquino III, former National Police Chief Alan Purisima and other police officials liable for the botched operation.

Magalong knew that the results of the investigation would spell the death of his career. 

There was pressure on Magalong then to change the outcome of the inquiry, and go soft on Aquino's involvement. Magalong, at the time, was widely-regarded in Camp Crame as one of the strongest contenders to become PNP Chief.

Yet Magalong never relented.

"In just one sitting, babaguhin namin [ang] report, ano 'yan? Wala ako kaluluwa? Wala sa ugali namin para baguhin. Hindi namin sisirain ang prinsipyo namin."

(In just one sitting, change our report, what’s that? Did I not have a soul? We did not have it in us to change the report. We did not want to go against our principles.)

"We are no longer thinking about our careers here. We have set aside our personal ambitions. Kailangan maging objective kami dito (We need to be objective). We owe the public. We owe the SAF 44," Magalong had told reporters then, after releasing the results.

Magalong is considered by many as one of the PNP's greatest assets. His “mistah” and former PNP Chief Ricardo Marquez once described Magalong as one of his "excellent" officials. 

Current PNP Chief Ronald dela Rosa, who replaced Marquez, also valued Magalong's seniority. He assigned him to his command group and gave him the third highest position in the PNP. 

In a video message, Dela Rosa said that if he had a choice, he wouldn't let Magalong retire. 

Dela Rosa, who is four batches junior to Magalong in the PMA, sees the retiring official as his "anchor" when dealing with more senior officers.

"Sa pag-retire mo, para akong nawalan ng right wing. Wala na ako big brother na aalalay sa akin kapag ako'y kinokontra ng matitigas na ulo na upper class," Dela Rosa said.

(In your retirement, it seemed like I have lost my right-hand man. I no longer have a big brother who would guide me in dealing with more senior officers.)

Magalong's post would have given him his third star as general. Yet with retirement in a few months, and not enough time on the post, the PNP couldn't promote him.

Magalong retired with only two stars on his shoulder.

The police official however said he did not mind.

"[I] was not born out of emptiness. After 38 years, I am proud to say that I have been built by humility, sacrifice and daily prayers. I am proud to have humbly and loyally served the PNP," Magalong said.

In his final goodbye to the service, Magalong had one final request to the PNP: “Follow our lead. Make humility in the service of the norm, not the exception."

It's a testament to the police general who never listed his rank or position in his calling card. 

Under his name, it simply said, "Public Servant".