Even with the reported 10-percent decrease in crime volume for the entire country from 2011 to 2012, President Benigno Aquino III is worried.
He is anxious about the peace and order situation in this election year in the face of the recent surge in criminality following what he described as a string “of violence and recklessness when it comes to the use of firearms” since the New Year.
The President on Saturday reiterated a standing order he gave Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, Philippine National Police Director General Alan Purisima and other heads of law enforcement agencies to intensify efforts against lawless elements on the eve of a crucial midterm election which he has said would be a referendum on his leadership.
“While it is important for all to acknowledge that great strides have been made in suppressing criminality in our country, I will also be the first to admit that much work remains to be done,” Mr. Aquino said in a speech at the 20th anniversary celebration of the Movement for Restoration of Peace and Order (MRPO) in Intramuros, Manila, on Saturday.
Cases solved soon
Mr. Aquino said the Caloocan stray-bullet case, the Atimonan clash and the case of the bus conductor killed by five passengers who refused to pay the fare were very close to being solved.
“If we have failure in terms of solving criminality, [this is maybe because] we haven’t arrested yet Jovito Palparan, the Reyes brothers and Rep. [Ruben] Ecleo. But, other than that, I challenge anybody to point out the sensational crimes that have not been solved under our watch,” he said.
He was referring to four of the so-called “Big Five” most wanted fugitives—retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, former Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes and his brother, former Coron Mayor Mario Reyes, and former Dinagat Islands Rep. Ruben Ecleo Jr. The fifth is real estate developer Delfin Lee.
He said he wanted the full force of government to go after so-called private armies, guns-for-hire groups, drug and gambling syndicates, and holders of loose firearms.
“For instance, despite the decrease in overall crime incidence [in the country], crime volume in Metro Manila has increased from 2011 to 2012. Likewise, recent events—instances of violence and recklessness when it comes to the use of firearms—push the government to work even harder when it comes to keeping our cities and barangays free from crime,” Mr. Aquino said.
Since the start of 2013, law enforcers have had their hands full coping with the most deadly cases—from the 7-year-old girl in Caloocan City shot dead by celebratory gunfire during the New Year’s Eve revelry to a drinks-and-drugs-fueled shooting rampage in Kawit, Cavite, which killed 8 people.
Before any of these incidents could be solved—and appropriate cases filed in court—yet another shootout among opposing groups of policemen and soldiers claimed the lives of 13 people, including a suspected operator of the illegal numbers game, “jueteng,” in Atimonan, Quezon province.
Covenant vs criminality
Before the arrival of the President at the MRPO event, Roxas, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, MRPO officials and two media practitioners signed a covenant on “government-citizenry commitment to combat criminality.”
Teresita Ang-See, the antikidnapping crusader, is the founding chair of MRPO, a civilian anticrime group composed mainly of Chinese-Filipino businessmen who have been battling kidnap-for-ransom groups for the past two decades now. The MRPO is chaired by architect Ka Kuen Chua.
Among those who attended the daylong convention were Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, Chinese Consul General Shen Zi Cheng, Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares and Washington Sycip, among others.
Amid the public attention generated by the so-called “Atimonan 13” incident on Jan. 6, in which three policemen and three soldiers were killed in a shootout at a police-military checkpoint in Atimonan, the President sought to allay public fears over the proliferation of malefactors in the uniformed services.
“We in the national government are on your side. Today, as both government and the private sector reaffirm their pact to combat criminality, you can be assured that we will continue to engage the Filipino people in the search for true and carefully thought out solutions—that we share your commitment to foster greater peace and order in the Philippines and to achieve justice for all,” he said in his keynote speech.
“You trusted [the] government to do right by you, we in government pledge to be worthy of your trust,” Mr. Aquino said.
Declining numbers but …
Mr. Aquino reported an overall decline in criminality but noted the increased incidence of illegal gun use with fatal consequences for the victims.
He explained, however, that the increase in crime volume reported for Metro Manila, or the National Capital Region, was the result of a new method to more precisely capture the crime incidents.
“So there’s a change in reportorial requirements that brought about the increase,” he said.
According to Mr. Aquino, kidnap-for-ransom cases have declined from 25 cases in 2011 to 11 cases in 2012.
“There has been an even greater decline over the years. In 2009, cases perpetrated by organized crime groups stood at 35. This has gone down to 21 in 2010, 11 in 2011 and, I am told, six cases last year.
“This same decline has been seen in kidnap-for-ransom cases perpetrated by terrorist groups, with only five recorded cases in 2012, down from 25 in 2009. Specifically, in Mindanao, kidnap-for-ransom cases have declined to only five incidents in 2012, compared to 10 incidents in 2011, due to proactive efforts to promote community awareness and cooperation,” said Mr. Aquino.
The President noted the “intensified” police presence across the country, whether in support of communities, tourism, or other interventions to fight and prevent crime.
According to Mr. Aquino, through the “Pulis Nyo Po sa Barangay” (Your Barangay Police) PNP program, 31,596 policemen have been deployed to supervise almost 40,000 barangays nationwide. Some 1,715 policemen are also manning tourism assistance centers and desks all over the country, he said.
The President said he had directed the Department of the Interior and Local Government to step up the campaign against loose firearms.
“The issue of loose firearms is an important component of our fight against criminality—not only because we want safe and peaceful elections in 2013, but for greater peace and order in our communities,” the President said.
He said the PNP was already conducting “stringent operations” against private armed groups.
“So far, we have in our custody a recovered total of 249 firearms, and more than a hundred individuals belonging to these armed groups are now in jail. And the effort is still ongoing.”
“Complementary to this is Oplan Katok, which involves our policemen visiting houses of identified holders of expired firearms licenses with the goal of having these licenses renewed, or the firearms surrendered. More than 25,000 house visitations have already been conducted, and all PNP regional directors have been ordered to complete visitations in their areas of responsibility, I am told, by this very Saturday,” he said.
Mr. Aquino said “a very vigorous campaign” against private armed groups and loose firearms was actually started in the second quarter of 2012, triggered by a rash of killings of barangay officials, ex-mayors, potential candidates for vice mayor and “various other entities.”
“There were 120-plus members of private armed groups [that] have either been arrested, surrendered, and at least nine of them have been killed. Here [are the figures]: arrested, 64; killed, 9; surrendered, 50; for a total of 123 members of private armed groups,” he said.
No to total gun ban
On gun control, Mr. Aquino reiterated his opposition to a total gun ban, saying this was not the most effective way to abate criminality.
“We have seen a revival in discussions on gun control, which largely revolve around new legislation on firearms, with some sectors advocating a total gun ban. This public clamor only deepens the necessity of discernment to determine if this will be the solution to the issue,” he said.
“Is the problem about licensed gun owners, or lawless elements? Will a total gun ban really deter kidnappers, murderers and robbers and terrorists from committing their crimes? Is it a question of passing new legislation, or of more strictly implementing existing laws?” he asked.
The President assured the citizens that his administration was looking for solutions that “are strategic, rational and effective,” and he welcomed the participation of groups like MRPO in the “national discussion” to ensure peace and order.
He called for increased civilian vigilance and cooperation, citing the “basic premise” that “law enforcement officials and the citizenry must empower each other; that both the private and public spheres must take active roles in keeping our communities safe and peaceful.”
First posted 12:03 am | Sunday, January 13th, 2013