Almost five years ago we witnessed the most heinous crime in our country’s modern history. Fifty-eight people: supporters, family members and accompanying journalists of an election candidate, were slain in broad daylight by armed men loyal to the incumbent mayor. An event of this scale appalled the international community, for nations marred with mass unrest such as Iraq or Afghanistan or a country without a legitimate government such as Somalia, a tragedy of this type may be expected – but how can something like it happen in an established democracy such as the Philippines, which once proclaimed itself to be the “freest democracy in Asia”.
Incumbent president Noynoy Aquino was elected on a platform of change, particularly to redirect the country back on the straight path. This resonated heavily among Filipinos growing frustrated of the rampant corruption in the bureaucracy and the lawlessness that was on the rise. Aquino’s slogan appealed to a broken country. His straight path package came with the promise to go after the ‘big fishes’ – the most wealthy and influential criminals in the land.
The plan was obviously needed, but it was also very ambitious. People had long accepted that justice was only for the rich and famous. Hence Aquino’s promise was a huge one: going after the masterminds not the triggermen, the manufacturers and not the street dealers and their political cohorts.
Aquino made good on his promise of going after these people, with several big names being put under investigation for alleged crimes. But the process lacked what people were longing for the most – a conviction. This gave the hunt for these big-time criminals to be more or less empty talk – something Filipinos are already accustomed to.
Just this month, Aquino’s promise was dealt with a glaring blunder.
The task force he had commissioned to fast track the capture of the country’s top 5 most wanted criminals, Task Force Tugis, successfully nabbed Delfin Lee, a businessman wanted for a multi-billion peso estafa scam that enriched his own real estate corporation. Lee had a Php2M bounty on his head, and the capture of a wealthy fugitive would make anyone deserving of accolades. Instead Task Force Tugis’ leader, Senior Superintendent Conrado Capa was sacked – almost immediately after being presented to the country as the hero who was behind Delfin Lee’s arrest.
The move not only shocked the nation but understandably enraged the people as well. If there was any doubt of government protection for wealthy and influential criminals, this put an end to it.
However, the director of the Philippine National Police, Alan Purisima, quickly defended his decision saying it was only to make Capa eligible of a prized position – particularly the post of a regional commander. Yet it did not make sense, the task force had leads on the four other targets on their hitlist – why ruin the flow of the investigation by replacing their leader? Not only would it take away their momentum, but it would also leave the Task Force open to the possibility of being headed by a corrupt policeman or a puppet to the wealthy fugitives.
Conrado Capa assumed his new post as the deputy regional director for operations of Philippine National Police (PNP) Regional Office 7 in Cebu recently. A post which Malacanang insisted was a promotion and not a punishment. Although for a promotion, Capa seemed irritated of it. In an interview, the former Tugis head said: “I’m very angry. I’m very frustrated… Frustrated is still a very kind word. You write that down. You can quote me on that. I will not take this sitting down,”
Who can blame him? Leading the arrest of a wealthy individual puts you in a lot of danger, to be ‘rewarded’ for that courage with a deliberate removal from office is a slap to the face.
Another point to consider is the manner of Lee’s arrest. If you were a fugitive in hiding for a billion-peso scam, I would expect you to be taking refuge in a lawless country or in a cave away from major cities. But Delfin Lee was captured outside the Hyatt Hotel and Casino in Metro Manila waiting for his girlfriend. How could someone in the country’s top 5 have the guts to be out in the open? Surely it would take someone with an immense amount of confidence that they would not be captured to be able to do that. Could Lee have been convinced that the government would not dare arrest him?
Also, if he placed himself out in public that easily how could it take two years before an arrest was made? Why were there no leads anytime sooner? According to Task Force Tugis, Delfin Lee was tracked as he was still using the luxury vehicles registered to his live-in partner. This fact either tells us that Lee is an extremely sloppy fugitive or that someone was playing blind about his whereabouts.
The government might have good intentions in reassigning Supt. Capa, but they went about it the wrong way. This move gave a demoralizing message to the Filipino people, almost like saying he was being punished for nabbing someone wealthy. If Aquino is really serious on giving justice for all, he needs to be clear on whose side he is really on. There are four more criminals left on his hitlist, is he able to go after them?
Superintendent Capa’s new role may be more lucrative, but it does not give him justice for his achievements. This also leaves us to hope that his replacement may be as honest and aggressive in fulfilling his role as him. Again President Aquino needs to be clear on whose side he is on, we always hear him boasting that he answers to the Filipino people, now it is time we act like bosses and demand results.