As violence escalates, is our PNP up to the challenge?
The recent Atimonan shooting that left 13 people dead including alleged jueteng operator Victor Siman is already a foretelling of what we can expect for the coming months if our Philippine National Police (PNP) loses control of the situation.
As the May 2013 national and local elections grow near, the fundraising for election funds needed by unscrupulous politicians will now go into high gear. It doesn’t take a seasoned political scientist to note that many of these local politicians continue to rely on the funding given to them by jueteng and illegal gambling operators who in turn receive protection from them.
In some instances like what was alleged in the province of Pangasinan, it is the local political leader himself or herself who operates and runs these illegal jueteng operations. The funds culled from these illegal operations are then used by these local leaders to buy votes, hire goons to harass voters and their opponents, and even bribe election officers to ensure that they are able to come out with a result in their favor.
Is our PNP helpless or hopeless?
Sadly, many police officials are also involved in these jueteng and illegal gambling operations. For example, it is clear as day that jueteng continues to thrive in Pampanga and yet, the PNP Provincial Director there continues to deny such claims.
Right now, many are saying that the Atimonan shooting is actually a result of an on going turf war between jueteng and small-town lottery operators in the CALABARZON region. If this is the case, then we may be headed for more violent encounters among these jueteng operators that can lead to more casualties from innocent civilians.
This was what happened a few years ago in Mexico when drug cartels openly fought against each other and the police force could do little to stop these encounters.
These drug lords, like our jueteng lords, have penetrated several government institutions and have several government officials in their payroll that have made them almost untouchable from our law enforcement agencies.
Hopefully, the new leadership of our PNP led by General Allan Purisima will immediately heed the call of DILG Sec. Mar Roxas to put an end to jueteng operations all over the country.
Aside from this, the PNP leadership together with Sec. Roxas should embark on a comprehensive reformation program that would rid itself of rogue police officers that have continued to tarnish its reputation.
Kidnap-for-ransom cases expected to rise
Another eventuality that our PNP should be ready for as the elections grow near is the return of kidnap-for-ransom incidents in our country.
Again, it is common knowledge that some of our local politicians have private armies and goons that perpetuate crimes to help them raise a sizable amount that they can use for their campaign. We must expect these hired hoodlums are already starting their “fundraising” activities.
Thus, our PNP with the support of our Armed Forces should now work doubly hard in dismantling and disarming these private armies to ensure that these crimes are prevented.
When enforced properly and free from abuse, the on-going COMELEC gun ban should be able to help decrease the number of criminal incidents in our country. Our police force should also be prepared for rescue operations when these kidnap for ransom cases occur unless we want another botched rescue attempt to happen similar to what transpired in the 2010 Quirino Hostage Crisis which left several Hong Kong nationals dead.
One major solution: Shun and stop vote-buying
When one closely analyzes the situation, the real cause of all of these violent encounters is the prevalence of vote- buying in our country. Many of these corrupt local politicians have continued to thrive and stay in power because ordinary Filipinos have chosen to continue to support them in exchange for money.
Unless we are able to convince our countrymen to shun vote-buying and instead vote for the right leaders in their local government, then we will continue to have similar violent incidents such as the Atimonan shooting that claimed even the lives of some innocent civilians.
Aside from this, many of these local politicians have continued with bribing their way into power since not one of them has been disqualified or even punished due to vote buying.
The challenge is now for the COMELEC, led by Chairman Sixto Brillantes, to strictly enforce its laws against vote- buying and show the whole country that those who will continue to practice this illegal means of winning elections will be punished accordingly.
As in any major change that needs to happen in our country, strong political will is needed from our government leaders, led by President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, to also put an end to jueteng and other forms of illegal activities that go into full operations whenever election season begins.
Do they have what it takes to make it happen? We will know the answers in the coming months leading to the polls.
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Harvey S. Keh is Director for Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship at the Ateneo de Manila University-School of Government and is also the Lead Convenor of the Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership.