MANILA, Philippines — Not just the usual suspects.
Sometimes an “order of battle” would include the name of a government official that intelligence reports would link to crimes like drugs and kidnapping.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson recalled being surprised upon reading the name of one such individual when he still had access to the so-called hit list of enemies of the state that the military has been prohibited from issuing following the enactment of the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Act last week.
“You would be surprised and wonder why the names of some personalities are there,” he said in Filipino in a radio interview Sunday.
Pressed to explain, Lacson said he volunteered the observation “as a general description. Sometimes, I would read an OB and tell myself, ‘why, I had no clue this guy would be doing this or that’!’ Because there are instances no one would have an inkling (hindi mo akalain) that a government official listed there would be involved in drugs and kidnapping.”
Lacson said that after recovering from his initial shock, he would go through the “accompanying summaries and information” and realize that the person’s inclusion in the OB “made sense” because the reports justifying so were convincing.
The senator refused to reveal the names he read in previous OBs.
Lacson said an OB’s contents were not supposed to be released to media “because it is like telegraphing the punches of the military and the PNP (Philippine National Police).”
Lacson told the Philippine Daily Inquirer later in a series of text messages that he had encountered such names when he was still director general of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and while still involved in other law enforcement agencies.
In the interview, the senator added that the crafting of an OB was not a whimsical matter and involved the intelligence networks of the military, the PNP and the National Bureau of Investigation.
“It is a product of an intelligence workshop of the military, NBI, PNP…based on the summary of information (SI) about a group of persons or a specific individual,” Lacson said.
An SI could be based on intelligence reports gathered by the government’s intelligence community or from information that had already been “confirmed by other sources.”
These sources bring in reports that have been “compiled, accumulated and become basis for who would be included” in the OB.
While some names belonged to those who had existing warrants and were known to have criminal records or are charged with criminal offenses, Lacson said there were also cases when a name was unfortunately included due to “intelligence reports that are not always true. The intelligence community can commit mistakes.”
Lacson said the main purpose of an OB was to “guide” the military and the police in identifying the personalities who deserved to be “covered by more intelligence efforts.”
“The OB gives a focus since there would be dossiers that provide material pertaining to the activities and venues of the modus operandi of certain people,” he noted.
Trouble started when the OB was abused or when protocol was not followed, Lacson said.
Asked whether he has encountered stories of enforced disappearances (or state-sponsored abductions and murders), Lacson did not give a categorical answer but noted that in some cases, “there would be overeager law enforcement units or personalities that could not build a case or cannot gather enough evidence to stand in court even if they are certain that a person is deeply involved in (an illegal activity).
Lacson said frustration would force these individuals to resort to “such things (sa gan’ung mga bagay).”
Lacson stressed that during his stint in the military and PNP, enforced disappearances were not tolerated but added that the practice existed (“hindi mawawala ‘yan”) and that such was also done in other countries (“maski sa ibang bansa practice din yan”).
“It’s a risk we take as law enforcement agents…to get more information or to validate the pursued target, maraming dahilan (there were many reasons). Yung iba naman out of frustration, yung iba overeager sila, nagmamadali yung…trabahong tamad yun, eh (In other cases, they did it out of frustration, the others were overeager, they were in a rush … but that’s the work of the lazy),” he pointed out.
“One is supposed to develop intelligence out of sheer intelligence efforts. Talagang babantayan mo, naka-stake out ka. Bantayan mo ang quarry mo. ‘Yung iba, dahil siguro may pressure, may deadline. Nagre resort na lang. ‘Eto ang ating target siguro kunin na lang natin ‘yon tapos bahala na sa bandang huli. Parang ganun ang nangyari (You really have to guard your target, you go on stake-out. You have to watch your quarry. But some were under pressure, were facing deadlines. So, they just resorted to shortcuts. ‘This is our target. Let’s just grab him and let’s see what turns out in the end, come what may.’ That’s probably what happened),” the senator explained.
However, he said he knew of instances when a “leak” would be made “to put a target on spot.”
“For example, maybe a person gained an enemy who has access to the OB and would leak that page containing his name in OB,” the senator recalled.
“Merong ibang information na suntok sa buwan. Alam mong nambobola ang gumawa ng OB or may galit or for political reasons nilagay yung pangalan (ng kagalit). Pilit na pilit, ika nga (There were information that were simply a shot at the moon. You knew that the writer of the OB was making things up or he had an axe to grind for political reasons, that’s why he put the name there. It was really forced),” he added.
Lacson put his awareness of this practice to good use when he warned detractors in the Arroyo administration against including his name in the OB in 2002.
At that time, Lacson was in the early years of his first term as senator when the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) produced a witness known then as “Ador Mawanay” who alleged that Lacson had ties to illegal drug activities.
“When I got hold of a copy of that list (2002 OB) from my PNP contacts at that time, I warned the PNP leadership and the intelligence community during a committee hearing on illegal drugs presided by the late Sen. Robert Barbers against an afterthought of including my name since I already had a hard copy (where my name was not listed),” Lacson said in a text message.
Apparently, those concerned listened to the senator’s warning and did not include his name despite Mawanay’s insistence.
Also in the interview, Lacson confirmed previous reports that the practice of enforced disappearances was most rampant (“pinakatalamak”) during the martial law years when the military was emboldened by the perception that it was “impregnable” and lost its “sense of vulnerability.”
However, he noted that members of the leftist movement who were quick to make noise about human rights violations suffered by their colleagues should also check their own backyard for possible offenders.
“Marami rin silang dinudukot na ‘di na nakikita. Minsan sa hanay nila mismo. May mga nawawala tapos sina-summary execute nila (They also snatched many people from their own ranks and these people were never seen again. These people disappeared and were summarily executed by them),” the senator said over radio.
“It’s a pity that we view the issue of human rights in a one-sided manner…We tend to focus only on (violations committed by) law enforcement (agents), but there are also numerous human rights victims among the ranks of the police and military but these are hardly documented by the Commission on Human Rights,” he added.
Lacson added he was certain (“sigurado”) that leftist groups committed more cases of enforced disappearances.
“Kung titimbangin mo mas marami pa. Hindi na nga baka, sigurado mas maraming committed by so-called enemies of the state. Not only against the military and the police but also against civilians they terrorized (When you weighed facts, they (rebels) have committed more cases of enforced disappearances. Surely, the so-called enemies of the state committed more cases. Not only against the military and the police but also against civilians they terrorized,” he noted.
Lacson said there were numerous cases when civilians living in far-flung areas were visited at home and forced to support the movement.