Second in a series of articles on national concerns. Last of two parts on crime increase under Pres. BS Aquino.
YOU’D think it would make headlines: the tripling of crime under President Benigno Aquino 3rd. Yet three days after this column reported at the very top of this paper’s front page, citing official data, that crime incidents trebled to 1.16 million in 2014, from 324,083 the year he took office, no other major media has taken up the story. Google “crime under Aquino,” set the search period for “Past week,” and see what you get.
Maybe more unprecedented numbers will get media attention. How about smuggling?
As seen in the data table below, calculated by this writer’s CenSEI research group using International Monetary Fund trade data, the value of contraband under President Benigno Aquino 3rd surged to $26.6 billion, the highest in the country ever.
That’s more than three times the $7.9 billion estimate for 2009, based on the difference between total imports recorded by the Philippines and total exports to the country reported by all our trading partners, minus the cost of shipping and insurance.
As a percentage of exports to the country reported by other nations, the share of illicit goods nearly doubled to 27.2 percent last year, from 14.7 percent in 2009. That means more and more of our imports come in under-declared in value or simply undetected.
And that’s based on exports and imports officially recorded. Far more may be going in and out without being seen.
Last year, “Illicit Financial Flows to and from the Philippines,” a study by Global Financial Integrity, an international non-government organization, reckoned that “over the past decade, 25 percent of the value of all goods imported into the Philippines — or 1 out of every 4 dollars — goes unreported to customs officials.”
Record smuggling fuels crime
That may be disturbing, some may say, but what’s smuggling got to do with crime? A lot.
To quote President Aquino himself, lambasting corrupt customs personnel in his 2013 State of the Nation Address: “Instead of collecting the proper taxes and preventing contraband from entering the country, they are heedlessly permitting the smuggling of goods, and even drugs, arms, and other items of a similar nature into our territory. … One can almost hear these public officials say, ‘I don’t care if the weapons go to criminal elements; I don’t care how many lives are ruined by drugs.’ ”
Plainly, record smuggling is putting more guns in criminal hands, and more drugs into junkies, driving many to crime. That’s not all. Study after study have established the symbiotic link between crime syndicates and contraband, with illicit trade giving lawless groups more cash and connections to buy off police, investigators, prosecutors, judges, mayors, governors, and national officials.
The 2003 paper “Corruption, Contraband and Organized Crime in Southeast Europe,” published by Sofia-based Center for the Study of Democracy, warned that smuggling “has become a breeding ground for organized crime on a regional scale.” The UN Office on Drugs and Crime study on “The Globalization of Crime” expounds on how smuggling of everything from guns and narcotics to counterfeit medicines (the latter prevalent in Southeast Asia) boosts transnational crime.
It’s no mere coincidence that both crime and smuggling have tripled under Aquino. Hence, along with getting crime data right (discussed in Part 1, published Tuesday), a second law enforcement priority for the next administration must be to drastically reduce smuggling to stanch the flow of guns, drugs, and contraband profits to criminal syndicates.
Transforming the police
A third presidential priority in the fight against crime is the constant monitoring, fine-tuning and implementation of the PNP Transformation Roadmap 2030, the latest iteration of a program first drafted in 2003 and revised over the years. An overview is available at: https://www.cpsm.ph/pgs-overview.xml.
Once correct crime data are finally obtained, the next government should review the PNP 2030 plan and ensure that its key thrusts are in line with law enforcement challenges in years and decades ahead. That includes not just traditional threats, but also new ones, especially cybercrime.
“Politics and Policing in the Philippines,” a 2010 paper by Glenn Varona for the Flinders Journal of History and Politics, published in Australia, provides an insightful analysis of the PNP based on history and current developments.
It lists PNP needs as of 2009, based on the transformation plan then. The police lacked 14,524 land vehicles; in his latest SONA, President Aquino said the government was buying 2,523, with 302 already acquired. He said 12,399 communication radios were distributed; that’s about half the 25,289 in Varona’s wishlist.
Also mission-critical: four-fifths of the 1,282 police stations nationwide were in a “sorry state,” said Varona: “made of substandard materials, are not conducive to security and are ill equipped. Many stations do not have computers, fax machines, or even the most rudimentary office equipment and supplies.”
The police-politics nexus
Varona’s paper also devoted much discussion on how the country’s dysfunctional politics hampered law enforcement. This demands a separate discussion of governance, but there are two ideas worth considering now, to ensure that political leaders, while rightly given control of security forces, are also pressured to do their part in law enforcement.
One is to institute regular surveys on crime in provinces, cities and towns, to be jointly conducted by the Commission on Audit, the National Police Commission, and civil society groups. This would not only help verify crime data, but also pressure local leaders and police to address peace and order concerns.
The other is the past Bantay-Sakdal program monitoring and prodding high-profile criminal cases, in a joint effort by the Interior and Justice Departments, the Supreme Court, law schools, anti-crime groups, and media. Bantay-Sakdal kept public attention focused on investigation and prosecution of major crimes all the way to conviction.
Working together to put away big criminal fish will build trust and cooperation between the police and the people — the most important weapon against lawlessness.