Monday, March 1, 2021

‘Carnapping’ vs carjacking


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The media have attributed the tragic end to the young life of Ivan Padilla to several factors: a dysfunctional family, a failed business, a fascination with unworthy role models like Jason Ivler, etc.

Most people seem to agree that Padilla’s criminal career had to be put to a stop—although questions have arisen about the circumstances of his death. That is not the point of this piece, however.

Instead, let me focus on what crime Padilla allegedly committed. According to several news organizations, he and his associates were involved in “carjacking.” The authorities, on the other hand, say he was guilty of “carnapping.”

The spell-check program in your computer is likely to underscore the word “carnapping” with a ragged red line, indicating that the term does not exist in any accepted English dictionary.

But look up the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines and you will find that “carnapping” is a criminal offense punishable with 14 to 30 years imprisonment under Republic Acts 6539 and 7659.

Question: Did the framers of those laws have a weak grasp of the English language or did they feel compelled to adopt the term to describe a crime that they thought was unique to this country?


“Carnapping” contains the elements of an automobile and the forcible seizure thereof. The term, if memory serves, first came into use in the early 1960s.

At that time, cars were not as numerous in the Philippines and thus were considered more valuable than they are now. Many Filipinos today think of a car as a necessity, but back then it was seen as a luxury.

It seemed inevitable that some enterprising crooks would exploit this popular mindset, and play on the emotional and other attachments of car owners to their vehicles.

Cars were stolen—mostly by stealth rather than by force—and brought to a province, usually Cavite, close to what was then called the Greater Manila Area.

The thieves would then contact the car owners who were told that if they wanted their prized possessions back, they would have to cough up a sizable amount of money—thus, the association with “kidnapping.”

After the ransoms demanded by the thieves were paid, the owners were told that they could find their cars parked somewhere in the city.

For want of a better term, newspapers of the day began calling this nefarious racket “carnapping.” Lawmakers took the cue and crafted legislation that penalized the curious crime of “carnapping.”

Thereafter, the police and other agencies organized “anti-car-napping” units even after criminal syndicates had already modified their modus operandi.

By the late 1970s cars were no longer being stolen for ransom. Instead, their engine and chassis numbers were altered then sold to unsuspecting buyers, complete with bogus license plates, registration and other documents.

Other gangs preferred to take stolen vehicles apart and harvest the dismantled pieces for sale to shady automotive spare parts dealers; this racket came to be known as “chop-chop.”

The criminal gangs also became bolder. Rather than use pick locks and similar devices to gain access to cars, they began accosting motorists—usually with guns and knives—then grabbing the vehicles outright. In some cases, abduction of the driver and/or his passengers is involved. In rare instances, murder took place.

The phenomenon was not unique to the Philippines. In the early 1990s, US authorities passed a law defining the crime of “carjacking” and providing penalties for it much stiffer than what was previously available laws against “grand theft auto.”

Unfortunately, the authorities in this country are still caught in a time warp. They insist on using a five-decade old Taglish term, which is obviously no longer sufficient to describe the heinous crime of carjacking.

Singson defended

Soon after a Manila daily ran an article linking Secretary Rogelio Singson of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to a “midnight deal,” the online social networks were inundated with postings, notes and messages objecting to what their authors described as unfair accusations.

No, I don’t think they all originated from a press agent or “crisis PR consultant” employed by Singson—if indeed he has one.

Rather, the rejoinders to the newspaper report came from people who genuinely admire him and who have direct knowledge of his management style, professional accomplishments and, above all, character.

One of them is Jess Matubis, a veteran media practitioner who had occasion to work with Singson at Maynilad, one of two private water concessionaires in the capital region.

A “friend” of mine on Face-book, Matubis wrote in part: “I know Mr. Singson and worked with him for three years in May-nilad. He was president and CEO and his brand of leadership both inspired and motivated people to do their best. He turned around Maynilad into a profitable company. He managed to reduce the Non-Revenue Water of the company from 68 % to 53% in the short time of two years. That is a remarkable achievement, one that [the state-owned Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS)], the owner and original operator of the water system in Metro Manila, couldn’t do in the decades before the water operations were privatized.”

Matubis went on to refute the allegations of a “midnight deal” that Maynilad purportedly entered into with Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor), the government-owned casino operator that has a project to set up a Las Vegas-style entertainment center at a portion of the Manila Bay reclamation area.

The arguments Matubis detailed—which tend to refute the “midnight deal” allegation—have been amply discussed in the news media. They have effectively demolished the charges made against Singson by—get this—unnamed accusers.

Explaining what drove him to come out in defense of the new DPWH secretary, Matubis went on to say that “I have never met a high ranking official either in the private or public sector who is as God-fearing as Mr. Singson.”

Anonymous denunciations regularly appear in the media—and not a few quarters are disturbed at how they can so easily ruin reputations.



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