‘A very isolated case’

‘A very isolated case’ was the way the Philippine National Police and the Palace characterized the kidnapping of a Filipina employee and three foreign tourists in Samal Island in Davao del Norte last Sept. 21.

The Palace again used the same phrase to describe the killing of a barangay captain in Nueva Ecija last Sept. 24. The kidnapping of those four in Samal Island by the Abu Sayyaf is a big blow to the country’s image considering that the Asia- Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting is going to be hosted by us this November.

It will also surely set back our struggling tourism industry. With such incidents, it becomes doubly hard to lure foreign tourists to our shores. It simply is not safe for them. Our hosting the APEC is maybe the reason why the countries that routinely issue travel advisories to their citizens every time a kidnapping takes place in Mindanao have not issued one. Perhaps the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia do not like to embarrass us too much with the Apec meeting barely a month away.

The Abu Sayyaf has over the years been embarrassing the country in the eyes of the international community. They seem to be able to conduct raids here and Malaysia anytime they want and the country seems unable to do anything about it. The Armed Forces and the PNP are so helpless that the countries of the three kidnapped foreign tourists contacted Mayor Rodrigo Duterte for help instead of going to the Secretary of Defense. Canada and Norway seem to have more faith in the good mayor than our Police and Defense establishments.

This criminal and terrorist group which according to government estimation number less than 400 people continue to run circles over our vaunted AFP and PNP. If our government cannot crush the Abu Sayyaf, how can it defend the territorial integrity of the country against foreign aggression? If the Abu Sayyaf can conduct a raid in Samal Island which is far from their comfort zones of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, then the ASG must also be getting bolder. Maybe next time, they will raid Boracay which is full of foreign tourists. What will happen then? Will it still be a “very isolated” incident?

In planning for the Apec meeting, those in charge and our security services should have conducted pre-emptive operations precisely to deter raids like the kidnapping by the Abu Sayyaf in Samal Island. Our security services know the capability of the Abu Sayyaf yet no show of force was demonstrated. This possibility should have been anticipated by the government but failed to do so.

The Samal raid was not the first nor will it will be the last that the Abu Sayyaf will undertake. It is time that the government provide adequate resources to neutralize the group once and for all. Otherwise, the group will always make a mockery of our inability to stop their terrorists and criminal activities. To the Abu Sayyaf group, kidnapping is a backyard industry similar to the Somali pirates. Their last operation was the kidnapping of two Germans in April of 2014 where the group was able to get a ransom of more than P200 million. Maybe that money has run out so another kidnapping operation was mounted.

That they are able to do it so easily is also an indication of their disdain of our government forces. Question:  Why is the Abu Sayyaf Group allowed to have control over a piece of territory like the MNLF in the tiny island of Sulu? If the government cannot even maintain control over its so-called sovereign territory by allowing terrorists and criminal groups like the ASG to operate with impurity then there is something terribly wrong with this government.

The kidnapping in Samal Island also in a way gives us a bird’s eye view of the state of criminality in this country. We often read media reports that crime has been going down over the years. Yet, if we ask ordinary people on the street if they feel safer, we often get a negative response.

If crime indeed has been going down over these many years, it stands to reason that there must be a feeling of universal safety throughout the country. This, however, is not true because crime reporting by the police has not been transparent and accurate up to this time. Just scan the daily papers and open your television sets and count the number of people getting killed and other crimes being committed on a daily basis and this gives the public a better picture of the true state of criminality prevailing in the country today.

Another indicator of a worsening crime situation is when the private security industry is thriving because businesses and families feel the need to hire security guards. There has to be honesty in crime reporting and PNP Chief Ric Marquez has the chance and opportunity to fix this broken system by starting from scratch and reform the system. This way, the PNP can provide the public with the real crime situation rather than continue sanitizing the reports to make the picture look better than the actual condition. This was in fact attempted a few years ago but was discontinued when the crime volume went in excess of one million. But the Police has no better option. It must explain and have more trust in the people that they serve. The figures will be shocking at first but it is better to be transparent than continue this farce of reporting an improving crime situation when in fact the opposite is true.

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