Last of two parts
As discussed in Part 1 on Tuesday, the tripling of crime under President Benigno Aquino 3rd — from 324,083 incidents in 2010 to more than a million a year since 2013 — happened after he abetted jueteng and smuggling by holding back proven nemeses of these illegal activities. That funneled massive funds to lawless groups and their cohorts in government, and allowed drugs and guns to enter the country unchecked.
This illicit largesse enabled crime groups to expand their ranks, networks and facilities, and pay more bribes. With their immense clout, they now even assassinate judges, with no loud reaction from Aquino.
If this continues, gangs could amass even more power and funds, as syndicates did in Latin American narco-states.
This threat of crime organizations gaining massive political power is the biggest challenge not only to law and order, but to Philippine democracy.
How do we stop it? Among many strategies, here are four key ones.
Shock and awe the lawless
With their unprecedented surge under Aquino, criminals brim with confidence. The first step in beating them back is installing a government committed to fighting lawlessness, headed by a battle-tested President.
Among presidentiables, Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte has made fighting crime his top priority. Vice-President Jejomar Binay and Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago also have tough reputations. Binay stood up to the Marcos dictatorship as a rights lawyer, while Santiago put away notorious criminals as a judge.
But Senator Grace Poe may appear too kindly, while Mar Roxas can hardly scare criminals who flourished when he was overseeing the Philippine National Police as Interior Secretary.
A strong, committed leader cracking down on crime, jueteng and smuggling groups would force many to lie low, and discourage others from joining their ranks, as they assess how strong and lasting the crackdown is.
The new President should also harness the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission. Under Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, the PAOCC has nil achievement to show, despite its billion-peso annual budget. With new leadership, it should effectively do its job of targeting syndicates.
In the first 100 days of the next administration, among priority achievements should be sweeping crackdowns on drug labs, carnapping and kidnapping gangs, and the crooked cops protecting them. Catching 3-5 big fish, plus corrupt PNP officers, would signal that the new President really means to put criminals out of business.
Shut off the easy money
Next step is to ratchet down illicit gains from jueteng and smuggling. Without that easy cash, lawless groups have to scale back. Stanching contraband also shuts the flood of narcotics and firearms.
Can jueteng be eradicated? The late Local Government Secretary Robredo stopped it in Naga as mayor, and there are regions where political will and local culture limit inroads.
Best to first target jueteng areas where crime and drugs are also prevalent. Then the anti-gambling campaign has the biggest impact on lawlessness. And if local officials and police hit narcotics and crime to get off the anti-jueteng priority list, that’s not an entirely bad result.
As for contraband, the key reform is the risk management system set up by Ramos-era customs chief Guillermo Parayno. Dubious or unknown importers are put in the “red” or “yellow” lanes for stringent inspection, while legitimate traders go through the “green” or “super-green” lanes with minimal checks.
But smuggling soared after Parayno left and corrupt officials put smugglers in green lanes. What’s worse, under Aquino, cargo from one port was allowed to transfer to another, supposedly to be inspected there, but was “lost” in transit.
Restore Parayno’s system to its correct operation, and smuggling drops, along with the cash, drugs and guns now strengthening gangs. Then like any business losing money, crime becomes less attractive to perpetrators and financiers now powering its growth.
Prioritize big-fish cases
What would further scare crooks is an effective criminal justice system catching big fish. Investigations and cases targeting high-profile hoods should get top priority.
Consider reviving the Arroyo-era Bantay Sakdal scheme, where the Justice and Interior deparments, the PNP, the National Bureau of Investigation, and the Judiciary joined hands with law schools, civil society, and media to expedite big-fish cases.
Bantay Sakdal also publicized trial proceedings, especially undue delays. Today the system should give special protection to judges trying crime bosses; even magistrates have been assassinated in recent years.
To discourage new crimes, Bantay Sakdal can prioritize new offenses, warning those contemplating lawlessness that they could wind up first in the investigation and prosecution line.
Lastly, the scheme should monitor convicted crime lords, making sure prison never again becomes their second home and headquarters.
If 3-5 big-fish cases now languishing are accelerated and adjudicated in the first 100 days, that would put the fear of God in many of the lawless.
Mobilize the nation
Flush with popularity and political capital after elections, the next President should immediately mobilize the citizenry, key sectors, civil society, and major religions against lawlessness, first in the most crime-ridden places, then eventually nationwide.
Besides the need for police and society to collaborate for effective law enforcement, there are three other reasons to mobilize the nation.
First, the new President requires broad public support when prominent politicians in league with criminals attack his or her campaign, especially if it gets bloody, as it probably would, since the lawless won’t give up their years of plenty without a fight.
Second, when criminals strike back, the people must not lose faith in the new leadership for it to stay the course, despite a possible flare-up of crime as well as attacks on law enforcers, investigators, prosecutors, judges, and upright leaders.
Third, solid public support and cooperation are a must for the anti-crime campaign and gains to last. Otherwise, after six years, the crooks might just roar back into business.
Will this four-pronged strategy work — shock and awe, cash crunch, big fish catches, and people power against outlaws?
It be, for the sake of our families, our communities, and our democracy.
(The first part was published on Tuesday.)