Guillermo Eleazar, the new national police chief, has vowed to eradicate the “palakasan” and “bata-bata” system in the law enforcement agency, to restore dignity, discipline and the public trust in the organization.

It is a tough challenge for someone who will only stay in the post for about six months. Past national police chiefs had also made promises to cleanse the organization of rotten eggs, but these scalawags in uniform are still there, tarnishing the image of the police force that had vowed to “serve and protect” the people.

Eleazar, who was among top graduates of the Philippine Military Academy in 1987, was a known disciplinarian and was well-loved by the press because of his can-do personality. He swiftly responded to queries from the public.

There’s no doubt he can make good on his promise to clean up the police force and restore its image that had been badly mangled by the brutal and bloody “war on drugs” and the war of attrition with suspected Maoist-led rebels and supporters.

But six months is too short for Eleazar to complete his task. His appointment as Phiippine National Police (PNP) chief will be cut short by the mandatory retirement clause in the uniformed service. Army and police officers retire when they reach 56 years old.

His promise to cleanse the ranks is difficult but there could be some results because there are too many abusive, corrupt, and inept police officers.

However, eradicating the “palakasan” and “bata-bata” system would be nearly impossible under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, who rewards promotions and assignments on the basis of personal loyalty, not on merits.

From the middle of 2016, key and sensitive positions in both the armed forces and police have been given to officers who, in their earlier careers, had been assigned to Davao City.

Duterte rarely appointed officers based on seniority and merit, but was sometimes forced to because these officers were highly respected by their peers.

When he assumed the presidency, he made Ronald dela Rosa the PNP chief. Dela Rosa was a one-star police general who jumped ahead of more senior members in the PNP.

As commander in chief, Duterte has the prerogative to appoint anyone he likes. Duterte rewarded Dela Rosa for the loyalty he displayed during the 2016 presidential campaign, when he defended the former mayor of Davao City from detractors.

Duterte only inherited the “bata-bata” or the political patronage system in both the military and police. It is cultural because of the “padrino” system in the Philippines.

The late dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, institutionalized the patronage system in the military, which included, at that time, the Philippine Constabulary and the Integrated National Police.

For instance, Gen. Romeo Espino was chief of staff for nine years from 1972 to 1981, during the period the country was under martial law.

Marcos’s distant relative, Fidel V. Ramos, was the longest-serving head of the Philippine Constabulary and Integrated National Police (PC-INP) from 1972 to 1986.

The patronage system breeds corruption in the armed services. It planted the seeds of discontent, which led to a mutiny in 1986 by a small group of officers from the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM).

Marcos discovered the planned mutiny and arrested two young army captains, but the people intervened and supported then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and then Armed Forces Vice Chief of Staff and PC-INP chief Ramos.

There were efforts to professionalize the military under Corazon Aquino with the PC-INP removed from the Armed Forces of the Philippines and transformed into a civilian agency called the Philippine National Police.

Aquino scrapped the system of overstaying generals and pushed for a law mandating the chief of staff to serve a maximum three years and retiring all commissioned and non-commissioned officers when they reached 56 years old.

Only two chiefs of staff served for three years. Renato de Villa who succeeded Ramos in 1988 retired in 1991, outlasting all his PMA 1957 classmates who retired en masse in 1988, the only group of officers that retired from the service at the same time.

All succeeding members of PMA classes retire upon reaching 56 years old. Some officers who belong to younger PMA batches retire ahead of the upperclassmen because of age.

The other general who served for three years was Lisandro Abadia, who impressed Aquino when he boldly held his ground during the December 1989 coup, replacing marine general Rodolfo Biazon who served for only three months as chief of staff.

But another form of patronage surfaced when generals are given a chance to serve as chief of staff.

Benjamin Defensor, the younger brother of the late senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, was chief of staff for 71 days. He was a brilliant air force general but his stint was the shortest, and he was not able to leave a mark in office.

The so-called revolving door policy, which punctuated Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s nine years in the presidency, allowed her to defeat several coup attempts, starting with the 2003 Oakwood mutiny by members of the PMA Class of 1995 led by Antonio Trillanes and younger officers.

Arroyo had a total of 12 armed forces chiefs of staff during her presidency. Duterte has already named 10 chiefs of staff in only five years.

In the Philippine National Police, Arroyo had seven chiefs in nine years and Duterte already has six with just one year to go. Eleazar will retire in November, giving Duterte the chance to tie Arroyo with the most number of PNP chiefs.

The top positions in both the military and police are seen as rewards for officers who had exhibited not only exemplary performance and seniority but, above all, loyalty to the president.

But the politicians should not be solely faulted for patronage in the armed services. The officers play a part in the system as they actively look for “padrinos” who could help in promotion and assignment.

The PMA classes have long adopted politicians as honorary members, including those running for president, hoping their classes would be rewarded with promotions, assignments and schooling abroad.

Individual officers, especially those who do not belong to PMA classes, also look for padrinos to move up the leadership ladder.

When you join the armed services and become second lieutenant, you will be promoted automatically upon reaching the required time in grade. Thus, after 10 years in the service, officers hold the rank of captain or lieutenant senior grade in the navy.

Politics will enter into the picture when officers aspire to become colonels and generals. Many officers, including graduates from the military and police academies, do not make it as generals and retire early as colonels. Some are removed from the service due to attrition, or if they are not promoted and have been in a certain rank for too long.

The competition is tough so individual officers and graduates of the academy look for sponsors to help them in their careers.

Thus, patronage in the service is a two-way street. It is a symbiotic relationship. But it has provided stability in the government as mutinies have become, perhaps, a thing of the past.

Eleazar talks tough. But it is doubtful if cleansing the ranks and eradicating the “padrino” and “bata-bata” system will succeed.