Pointless–and dangerous

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From arming barangay tanod to a Metro Manila-wide curfew to reviving the proposal for a national ID system to the registration of cell phone SIM cards, the response of some of the country’s leaders to the October 19 bombing of a bus in Balintawak has ranged from the pointless to the dangerous.

The arming of barangay tanod, proposed by the mayors of Metro Manila, is both. Under that scheme, these so-called village guards, of whom a barangay can have 20, would be issued guns in furtherance of counter-terrorism. Since authentic terrorists are not likely to be resident in barangay in huge numbers, and given the composition of the tanod, the likelihood is that some of them will end up terrorizing their neighborhoods if not shooting themselves.

Barangay tanod are recruited by barangay captains from among their local supporters. The job neither pays much nor expects much, which means that in the majority of instances it is the community ne�er do wells and bullies who end up wielding the police truncheons they’re currently allowed to carry. In many neighborhoods these recruits strut around as if they owned the place, and are the subject of many citizens� complaints.

In every election, of course, they constitute the shock troops of the village captains in intimidating or buying voters, usually in behalf of a city councilor, the mayor himself, or, during national elections, those running for national office.

Arming all 18,000 tanod in metro Manila, which has 897 barangay, will in fact create a veritable army, the control of which can be critical in elections, whether local or national, and specially for 2004.

It is an understatement to say that they are poorly trained. They receive the most cursory orientation from local policemen, a practice equivalent to the blind leading the blind. They know next to nothing about civics and less about the law, their petty authority thereby not being tempered by any sense of community and civic responsibility.

The Manila mayors have assured the public that the tanod will be retrained. This assumes that they are re-trainable. The fact is that not everyone can be re-trained, and those who can be will require more than the usual time and effort the government customarily devotes to the effort.

The Philippine National Police, for example, has demonstrated time and again that many of its elements are not re-trainable, used as they are to years of doing things in a certain tried (e.g., beating confessions out of suspects) and profitable (e.g., protecting the local brothel) way which a one-week or even a month-long seminar cannot cure.

Expect the training of tanod not to last a week�and to consist of the police�s passing on to them the same level of ignorance about terrorism that it has been displaying in its failed efforts to find a credible lead in who did the October 19 bombing.

The proposal for a metro-wide curfew is on the other hand as pointless if not even more dangerous, probably unconstitutional, and reminiscent of martial law and its abuses.

Several metro Manila cities already have curfews for minors, which runs from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. Presumably a metro Manila wide curfew will be broadened to include adults as well, which means limiting the freedom of movement of supposedly free citizens through the erection of checkpoints at strategic locations all over metro Manila.

The potential for abuse at such checkpoints from an untrained and corrupt police force has been demonstrated more times than anyone can keep count. And yet to have any meaning at all in the first place, such a curfew will have to cover a relatively long period. The Balintawak bombing occurred five minutes past 10 p.m., and could have happened even earlier. Just how early in the evening will the curfew the honorable mayors of Manila�who to a man can�t even get the garbage off their streets�are proposing be implemented to be effective? Nine p.m.? Eight?

In the same level of pointlessness is the proposal of Sen. Panfilo Lacson to register SIM card owners. As a counter-terror measure this proposal will do exactly nothing to make it any easier for terrorists and criminals to be identified or apprehended, and any harder for them to operate. What it will do is enter the names of respectable citizens in a government database, where they can be accessed by the unscrupulous, including those who need such data as addresses and telephone numbers to sell various products.

It should be clear why. Anyone with a criminal intent can give a false name, authenticated by forged documents, in registering his SIM card, whereas it is the vast majority of law-abiding citizens likely to provide their real names.

Lest the use of false names in registering SIM cards be an excuse for the creation of a national ID system, it must also be said that the proposed national identity card system will not guarantee the integrity of Lacson�s proposed registration system either.

An ID card to be of any value has to be based on other documents to begin with, to make sure that the person being issued the card is who he says he is.

The usual document for this purpose is the birth certificate�demands for authenticated copies of which are currently being met with great difficulty by the National Statistics Office. A geometric increase in the demands to, say, 40 million will severely test the NSO capacity�and provide an incentive for the usual syndicates to go into the forgery of �authenticated� birth certificates.

The bottom-line is that all of these proposals are being made supposedly to meet a terrorist threat. Without any leads to begin with, and with only the bombing and threats of bombings to start with, the police have concluded�and the Metro Manila mayors have agreed�that they do constitute terrorism. And yet one vital factor that identifies an act as terrorist is missing�the admission of responsibility by a group with proclaimed political ends.

A terrorist act is always political in that it is meant to compel governments or other authorities to act in a certain way on a particular issue. Without an admission of responsibility, the act becomes meaningless in that the mass anxiety it creates will not lead to any advance in the perpetrators� political agenda.

There is in fact more than a possibility that the bus bombing of October 19 as well as the bomb threats that have proliferated all over Metro Manila are criminal acts and nothing more. If that is the case, the solutions being proposed�solutions that will create more problems than they can solve�are as uncalled for as they are pointless and dangerous. At the very least those proposing them are reacting with a level of haste they should be applying to the collection of garbage�and preventing thereby the kind of thought that dealing with such threats requires.

(ABS-CBNNEWS.COM, October 23, 2202)

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