The Long View
Do not enter
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:34:00 03/03/2010
RECENTLY THE US STATE DEPARTMENT, IN ITS international narcotics control strategy report (which helps congressional oversight with foreign aid) cited our government’s own apprehensions (as voiced by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) over the possibility that drug money might affect the outcome of the May elections – or, for the cynically-inclined, at least provide a pretext for a post-election crackdown on selected targets.
In 2008, the blog Third Wave began to warn of the influence big-time drug lords would have on the 2010 elections. In January 2009, Mon Casiple and editorials in this paper and in the Negros Chronicle pointed out pretty much the same thing. Last July, Babes Romualdez tipped off his readers about America’s concern, conveyed through CIA chief Leon Panetta, about drug money being used to finance terrorism. At the time, Romualdez estimated illegal drugs to be a $7.5-billion-a-year industry; the State Department report estimates it at $6.4 billion to $8.4 billion annually.
But that’s just one hissing head of a many-headed hydra menacing the elections.
In 2008, political scientist Paul Hutchcroft pointed out that “As Philippine elections have become increasingly costly, they have encouraged politicians to become more creative in raising funds, whether through the promise of legislative and regulatory favors, real-estate scams, involvement in gambling syndicates, or links to drug lords and the underworld. In a surprisingly candid moment, Speaker Jose de Venecia said of the system: “It’s the drug lords and the gambling lords … who finance the candidates. So from Day One, they become corrupt. So the whole political process is rotten.” In February 2009, when spectacular bank robberies were hogging the headlines, I recalled Alex Magno’s reminder that the primary sources of political funding are: (1) Drug money; (2) Gambling money; (3) Quotas on customs and internal revenue bureaus; (4) The Philippine National Police.
Aside from claims of police connivance in protection rackets, there are also allegations that warlords use political office to extort tribute from syndicates. The Ampatuans have been tagged as this type of warlords, but PDEA’s Dionisio Santiago remains tight-lipped, saying only that the agency had received reports about politicians in alliance with drug traffickers. Fr. Eliseo Mercado has gone as far as to state there have been four G’s operating in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao: guns, goons, gold and Gloria: with President Macapagal-Arroyo’s patronage allowing the Ampatuans to become paramount warlords and untouchable so that no one could do anything if, indeed, they’d been acting as protectors of various syndicates – from smugglers, kidnappers to traffickers.
Since May 2005, the President and her family have faced accusations of being on the take from gambling syndicates. Her response was to brazen it out, knowing full well who matters, politically. Early last year, as speculation mounted about her possible run for the House of Representatives, her increasing visitations to Pampanga included her conspicuous presence at the birthday party of Lilia Pineda, wife of supposed jueteng lord Bong.
By last June, Pampanga Mayors League (PML) president and Lubao Mayor Dennis Pineda could boast: “There is no need for President Arroyo to campaign. We will give her an overwhelming mandate if she decides to seek a congressional seat.”
Now this could merely be guilt by association. After all, Christ befriended prostitutes and tax collectors, and the President likes to quote the scripture. As she has piously intoned many a time, let he who is without sin cast the first stone (translated into more secular language as the administration mantra, “Where is your proof? Bring it to the proper forum,” most recently quoted by Rep. Mikey Arroyo at Pineda’s birthday). The only ones who get a stoning, legally-speaking, anyway, being the destabilizers like that self-confessed sinner, Jun Lozada.
Meanwhile, Chavit Singson – whose initials might as well be the three G’s – publicly agonizes over who should be worthy of his political support: Gilbert Teodoro Jr. or Manuel Villar Jr., neither of whom seems displeased by the news. But then again, the Frankenstein coalition’s national directorate practically glitters with the names of topnotch warlords, while the Nacionalistas aren’t snobbish when it comes to people like their candidate for governor of Batangas, Armando Sanchez, who knows what it’s like to be tagged as a jueteng lord. It all makes that other NP-affiliated candidate (he seems to be officially under the wing of the Lakas-Kampi-CMD but is on the ticket, in one town, of the NP affiliate) Joc-joc Bolante look strictly like a white-collar candidate for an American country club-style prison.
In the end what this means is that the President’s coterie of thuggish friends are fully intent on continuing to throw their weight about, whether in association with her as she solidifies her petty grand duchy in Pampanga, or with the Frankenstein Coalition of her putative official candidate for president, or even with the Nacionalistas. Every time big fishes pose with the President – or presidential aspirants – it serves the purpose of a neon sign flashing in neon letters directed at PDEA and the press: “Do not enter our turf.”
It does not help that candidate Benigno Aquino III has given fair warning that those engaged in smuggling and other syndicated crimes are known to the authorities. Now, they have the time and incentive to rally around whoever seems best poised to thwart his candidacy.