THE then assemblyman and Minister of State Emmanuel Pelaez in July 1982 asked this question of Quezon City Gen. Tomas Karingal as he was being wheeled into the hospital emergency room, after surviving an ambush near his home in which his driver was killed.
It was really a rhetorical question that has become a classic over the years to express protest over a perceived serious deterioration of peace and order or of even other unpleasant developments in the country.
If Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo had survived the attack on his home the other day, he would have likely also asked the same question.
I haven’t heard of a more horrific audacious attack against a governor, a member of the most powerful class of politicians in this country that includes senators and congressmen. It was a massacre in broad daylight (9:45 a.m.) the other day, with at least five killers in army-type uniforms firing their assault weapons to shoot five of the governor’s innocent constituents dead at the residence’s makeshift assembly hall.
It could have been an exceptional case, in which somebody hating Degamo so much and having so much money as to have contracted a squad of professionals to kill him, and make sure the governor doesn’t survive the attack.
But then there had been verified attacks on other politicians just in the past several weeks. On February 17, Lanao del Sur Gov. Mamintal Adiong was ambushed. Although he survived the assassination attempt, it left his driver and three police escorts dead. Two days later, the vice mayor of Aparri, Cagayan, Rommel Alameda, and five companions, were killed in an ambush. On February 22, Maguindanao del Sur Mayor Ohto Caumbo Montawal was wounded after two gunmen fired at his vehicle in Pasay City, right in the metropolis.
Indeed, the killings so alarmed President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s cousin, House Speaker Martin Romualdez, that he called for an emergency meeting — ironically just a few days before Governor Degamo’s killing — with officials of the interior and local government and police officials to complain about the spate of politicians’ assassinations.
“This has really become bothersome because we have these reports of attempted slays almost every week. It’s alarming because it seems that almost every week there is news about high-profile killings,” Romualdez told media. “We want to know from the PNP and the DILG what steps are being taken to stop these kinds of heinous crimes,” the administration stalwart and House Speaker said.
There was no report though on what transpired at the meeting, what the police explanations were, and how they intend to deal with the problem.
The police have concluded that there has been a softening of the fist-of-fury campaign of immediate past president Rodrigo Duterte under the present administration, and criminal gangs and their unscrupulous clientele have felt this, emboldening them to undertake these killings and even massacres. Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin unwisely made public statements that confirmed his softer approach to the crime situation in the country.
Just a few months after he assumed the top PNP post, Azurin all but said that the previous administration’s iron-fisted approach to crime didn’t work: “With so many deaths, with so many killed, why is there still crime? Is that a solution? That is to say, there must be a better way to do things.” His remark that “everybody deserves a second chance, even hardened criminals,” went viral among the ranks of the police force, prompting one police major to remark: “If that’s his policy, then we’ll just look the other way, to give a criminal a second chance.”
“With Azurin at the helm of the PNP, criminals will no longer fear doing illegal activities,” Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption Chairman Arsenio Evangelista said, commenting on the PNP chief’s stance. Evangelista’s son, Venson, a secondhand car dealer, was murdered several years ago by kidnappers who pretended to be customers.
The problem with Azurin is not just his bleeding-heart view of criminals. He will be retiring next month, which most likely means his focus in the past months has been on leaving the service with no controversy casting a shadow on his retirement. Or his mind has not been concentrated on the country’s peace and order situation, but on other things retiring high-ranking police officials are wont to do.
Azurin had claimed several months ago that people should “see first how the PNP handles the peace and order situation in the country” under his leadership, citing “their high prioritization to the rule of law.” Seven months later, we are reaping the results of his approach to crime, with even powerful political leaders with security men being assassinated, with unverified reports that kidnappings have increased in the past several months. Politicians’ wives are said to be furious, as their budgets have had to be siphoned off to pay for more, and more skillful bodyguards.
Marcos may also have to evaluate if Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos Jr. is really up to the job of guiding and supervising the Philippine National Police. In January, he announced that all police officers have to submit “courtesy resignations” and that a lifestyle check would be conducted on them, to determine if they were corrupt, which would be decided by a five-man panel.
Abalos was not only obviously ignorant of the huge resources needed to lifestyle-check 600 police officers. He was oblivious to the fact that the five-man panel he will create to determine which officers are rogues to be fired has absolutely no basis in law nor in any police regulations. Perhaps realizing his big boo-boo (and forgetting that there is in the PNP this huge organization called the Internal Affairs Service that is responsible for investigating police corruption), not a word has been heard from Abalos recently from on the course of his cockamamie lifestyle check idea.
Pelaez made that “what’s-happening-to-our-country” remark in 1982 which hastened perceptions that the Marcos strongman regime was losing control of the peace and order situation. This was a big blow to Filipinos’ acceptance of his one-man rule, as ordinary citizens value highly their and their family’s safety from criminals. This hastened the dictator’s downfall, assisted by the global debt crisis in the early 1980s.
In fact one of former president Duterte’s big achievements — and one of the main reasons he has been the country’s most popular president during and after his term — was that he brought to the country peace and order, at least for most of it. This was a consequence of his war against illegal drugs, ironically the exaggerated reports of extrajudicial killings of which scared even hardened criminals.
I do hope Marcos realizes his administration has entered a crisis period. Inflation, especially the price of food, and peace and order are by far the most important concerns of ordinary Filipinos. If he doesn’t tackle these issues very soon, his popular support will plummet, and we know what happens if it does.
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