That was the question I asked former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo sometime in mid-2001 while serving as her Senior Presidential Consultant on Public Relations. It was an honorific, P1-a-year position.
I posited that question to the President in the face of the alarming number of kidnapping incidents victimizing mostly Filipino-Chinese and the growing reports of involvement of some members of the police and the military in the illicit drug trade.
At that time, kidnappings occurred almost daily and in some cases, the victims were killed even after they had paid a hefty ransom. The Filipino-Chinese community was up in arms against the government for its failure to curb crime. Teresita Ang-See, a crime-fighting leader of the Filipino-Chinese community in the country, was at the forefront of the campaign to try and stop kidnappings and other heinous crimes.
Arroyo did everything she could to protect the public from criminals. PGMA as we fondly call her, was deep into finding a solution to fighting crime. A succession of meetings with her police and military generals were held and concrete actions were implemented. But each time a campaign was launched, it failed. Kidnappings and reports of drug busts continued to hog the headlines.
As early as 2001, former President Arroyo already had a strong suspicion that some members of the police and the military were involved in illicit drugs and kidnapping. What to do?
“Who among the police and the military could we trust?” I asked the President. “I know there are many honest members of the police and the military but can you confidently point them out to me?” I added. The President kept her silence and looked at me straight as if waiting for my next word.
So I pressed on. “Why don’t we set up a parallel investigation group that will report directly and only to you?” “How?” she asked. “Why don’t we hire a retired agent from the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) who will investigate who among the police and the generals are into kidnappings and drugs?”
Like vintage Arroyo, her reply was short and clear. “Ok,” she said. And so off I went to the US Embassy and spoke to a high-ranking embassy official. “My visit was both official and unofficial. Official because I have the clearance from our President Arroyo to talk to you; unofficial because if this thing comes out in public, she will disavow any knowledge of this,” I said.
I was advised to wait for their response. Meanwhile, I met with some members of the Filipino-Chinese community over lunch in a Chinese restaurant along Roxas Boulevard. I repeated what I had said to the US Embassy official, that my meeting with them was “official yet unofficial.” They clearly understood.
They agreed to pay the salary and expenses of the retired US DEA official. It was, after all, for their own good and they were ready to cooperate with President Arroyo to rid society of kidnappers who threatened them daily. They asked me to thank the President for her concern for their safety and for coming up with an out-of-the-box solution to the kidnap-for-ransom problem that plagued not just the Filipino-Chinese community but the nation as well.
Some weeks later, I received a call from the US Embassy official who informed me that they had identified and talked to a retired US DEA agent, who resided in Hong Kong. The retired DEA agent had been briefed by the US Embassy and was prepared to meet with me, I was told. I was advised to wait for further notification. It would seem that everything was a ‘go’ at that point.
My contact at the Embassy called again a few weeks later. He dropped the bad news. I was devastated. He told me that the retired US DEA agent had backed out. “Why?” I asked. In a rather apologetic tone, the official told me that, “The agent backed out because he said the drug/kidnapping problem was too pervasive and too deep that involves key people in government, including the police and the military.” I had that impression that the agent himself was scared for his own life. Imagine that.
Several months later, (I think it was in 1992) Arroyo would appoint Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte as her anti-kidnapping czar. Kidnapping incidents declined considerably as a result.
I am revisiting this episode of the President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime to impress upon our government officials, more particularly President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, the critical need to contract the services of an impartial, trustworthy and competent investigators who would look into the involvement of police, military personnel, and other government officials into the illicit drug and kidnapping issues that rip families and the nation apart.
That some police and military personnel, prosecutors, judges, lawyers, some elected and elective officials, are involved in the illicit drug trade is a given. Duterte himself had said so.
That’s precisely the prevailing sentiment of our people. How sure are we that the investigators probing the involvement of the police and the military and government officials are themselves not members of a drug syndicate?
To completely obviate any suspicion of a whitewash or an impression of a crook investigating the other crook, it would serve the President to consider appointing not the NBI, not the police or the military, or even the members of the judiciary, to look into the drug and kidnapping menace.
Perhaps, Duterte can tap the services of retired Hong Kong or Singapore police to look into the involvement of our own police officers and agents, military, prosecutors, judges, lawyers, media practitioners into the illicit drugs trade and kidnappings, and see if their salaries and attendant expenses are shouldered by some businessmen. This will prevent any possible legal complications.
I say this because the recent killing of Mayor Rolando Espinosa inside his cell has spawned public suspicion that he was silenced by a group of high-ranking policemen who are themselves into the illegal drugs trade. This is a serious accusation and could have dire consequences on Duterte’s credibility as a crime fighter should he fail to take the bull by its horns.
If he cares about saving his campaign against illegal drugs, Duterte should unmask the rogue policemen and PNP officials who are into the illicit trade and bring them to justice. Doing so would reassure the public that there is no truth to the perception that the killings of alleged drug pushers/users by the police are intended to silence them.
Duterte should ask himself: “Who can I trust among my police, my officials, and my generals?”