Abu Sayyaf Attacks

The Philippines: Season of Crime

(Map: CIA World Factbook)

In the midst of this latest mad season of criminal activity [the Abu Sayyaf, a rebel Muslim group, has escalated its kidnapping in recent months—WPR] comes the word from Malacañang palace that the crime rate has actually gone down in the five months since the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has been in office.

The palace reported a 10-percent overall decline, which included a 37.5- percent decline in kidnapping-for-ransom cases—down to 30 from 48 over the same period last year—and a 50.34-percent decline in car-theft cases—down to 762 from 1,535. While we’re inclined to accept the figures as true—we don’t think they were plucked from thin air—we do wonder just how accurate they are.

We have no special sources of additional information. But we do wonder whether the figures we have been given reflect what is the implicit picture of a nation beginning to heed the call to law and order.

For one thing, the figures were for the first five months of this year and last, so do the Sipadan and Dos Palmas adventures of last year and this, respectively, cancel each other out? Was the kidnapping of Jeffrey Schilling in August of last year treated as a separate case—which would have left it out of last year’s statistics—or did it get tacked on to the original kidnapping in April of last year, as part of a continuing crime?

And on the same note, while this latest misadventure in Palawan actually took place at the end of May, do the two subsequent hostage-taking incidents at a hospital in Patikul and on a nearby farm count as kidnappings outside the period of comparison, or once again, do we tack them on to this year’s Abu Sayyaf caper as part of this continuing crime?

What about the May 1 attempted siege of Malacañang? [Filipino demonstrators gathered to protest former President Joseph Estrada’s arrest.—WPR] Did it actually make it to the palace’s crime statistics at all? Our big problem with the National Anti-Crime Commission is not as much the hidden premise that five months do not a year make as it is the bigger picture of weakness and indecision within the Arroyo administration.

At this point, perhaps we should explain ourselves, lest we be accused of playing politics with crime by trying to rate criminal activity—and the other side of that coin, public safety and well-being—using the arbitrary standard of political administrations. It’s not our intention to conclude that one political administration was or is safer than the other. Not on the basis of these statistics, anyway.

The question is: If crime is really on the way down during the Arroyo administration, as the palace would like to imply, why is it even bothering to create yet another superbody, the National Anti-Crime Commission, to fight crime?

The president herself pointed out that a major problem in fighting crime, Philippine-style, has been the infighting among law-enforcement organizations. Extending that thought, we not only have the police and the National Bureau of Investigation, we have the military and all its spin-off groups—the Presidential Security Group, Aviation Security Command, to name but a few.

Is the president saying that the problem of infighting among law-enforcement organizations is a larger problem than the problems posed by the criminals and their crimes? And if, for the sake of argument, she admits to that, is the solution yet another layer of management above the line agencies?

If anything, we think it’s the existing levels of management atop and above the law-enforcement agencies, all those political appointees, who have posed the biggest problem in enforcing the law.

To be fair, the Arroyo administration’s problem here is not unique; it didn’t invent the Philippine government’s apparent lack of political will. But its own contributions to the ledger of examples of lacking political will, in its short five months of existence, are already worth noting.

Judging from the administration’s wishy-washy stance on the issues surrounding the arrest and detention of deposed and disgraced former President Joseph Estrada and its inability to get to the bottom—or the top, if you will—of the Dacer-Corbito kidnap-murder [public relations executive Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and his driver Manuel Corbito were abducted and murdered, allegedly by former police chief Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, in April—WPR], it seems to be signaling that if you are audacious enough to call its initial bluff of tough talk, you can literally get away with anything, even murder.

And the people it has been trying in the media have not only called the bluff, they have tried to raise the stakes, as is evidenced by the attempted May 1 siege of Malacañang. The administration’s apparent inability or unwillingness to bring people to justice for their role in this pathetic attempt to manufacture a populist uprising speaks volumes of its spine and resolve.

After doing its darndest to try these cases in the media—and failing—the Arroyo administration is now faced with the unpleasant task of prosecuting them in court and actually presenting evidence that will stand up to legal scrutiny. We can only wonder how a National Anti-Crime Commission can help it accomplish these most basic objectives.

In its attempt to oversee the fight against crime, the Arroyo administration may be overlooking the criminals. And that, in the proper sense of the word, is an oversight. In fact, it is truly a criminal oversight.