At Large

Crusading against crime

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Many years back, I interviewed a visiting Chinese official who spoke about the need for the local “Chinoy” community to unite behind the government in Beijing and not confuse themselves with dual (and conflicting) loyalties to Beijing and Taipei.

Wanting a local perspective, I called up Teresita Ang-See who had just been named one of “The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service (TOWNS)” for crosscultural understanding, owing to her research work on Filipino and Chinese relations.

But during our conversation, Tessie surprised me by saying, in effect, that “more than the conflict between the Communist Party and the Kuomintang, we in the Chinese community are concerned about the spate of kidnappings.”

This was during the early days of the kidnapping spree that targeted mostly members of the Filipino-Chinese community, who could be “counted on” to keep quiet and not report the crimes, owing to their own sense of discretion and self-perception as “outsiders” in Filipino society.

In days, months and years to follow, Tessie Ang-See would emerge as the face and voice of the “Chinoy” community, speaking up for the families of kidnapping victims, who in time would no longer be confined to members of wealthy Filipino-Chinese families, but even children of Filipino upper-class clans or middle-class families.

Kidnapping had emerged from a criminal activity targeting only a specific social, economic and ethnic class, to one that threatened everyone, regardless of status, ethnicity or identity. In the years to follow, it became simply a crime of opportunity, with young children snatched in malls and ransomed that same day through ATM withdrawals.

And through all these years, through the waning and waxing of the kidnapping phenomenon as well as the attention of media, Tessie has been there in the trenches, tolerating calls in the dead of night from anxious families and exposing herself as a potential target for criminals.

* * *

So imagine our glee among us TOWNS sisters some days ago when we heard news that no less than P-Noy had lauded Tessie during the 20th anniversary rites of the Movement for the Restoration of Peace and Order (MRPO), an umbrella organization of anticrime groups spearheaded by Tessie and leaders of other such groups.

Tessie, said the President, “represents, to me, some of the best traits of the Filipino and the Filipino woman at that.” Likening Tessie to his late mother, democracy icon Cory Aquino, P-Noy declared that Tessie “is of the same caliber, of the same feather.”

Indeed, Tessie has many things in common with “Tita” Cory. For one thing, it is quite easy to underestimate her, much like Cory was once dismissed by critics as “just a housewife.” A widow, Tessie is likewise not “just a housewife,” having been a respected academic and writer before she emerged from the shadows as an anticrime crusader. But meeting Tessie in person, it is easy to forget the steel that underlies her person. She is soft-spoken and prone to breaking out in smiles. She hardly asserts herself, except when she feels she must speak out on matters of principle. I remember her speaking out about the way local police authorities mistreated the Chinese survivors of the bloody Luneta bus hostage-taking, at a time when relations between the people of Hong Kong and Manila were still raw and hurting. But Tessie’s outspoken reaction, I realized, was just “typically” her.

* * *

Still, despite the presidential encomiums, it must rile Tessie a bit to realize that more than two decades after she started down the road of exposing criminals who preyed upon our fears and insecurities, crime continues unabated.

Surely still playing on the minds of Tessie, P-Noy and everyone else at the MRPO anniversary were recollections of the shooting that took place in Atimonan, Quezon, where 13 people died.

Initial reports, and the claims of the combined force of police and army personnel who fired on the two vehicles, were that what took place was a “shootout.” But an investigation conducted by the PNP now points to a different, chilling possibility—the victims were ambushed.

Only six of the 13 fatalities were armed, investigators have concluded, and the guns allegedly found inside the two vehicles “were planted to make it appear that those killed were armed.”

A news report in this paper also says that the leader of the police team at the scene “has a lot to explain.”

* * *

What an irony, then, that 20 years after a spate of criminality led to the formation of a broad coalition of citizens’ anticrime groups, the biggest crime in the minds of those celebrating the milestone was one where police and military are the primary suspects.

It matters little what common backgrounds and shady activities the fatalities shared, although their families of course dispute the claims of authorities that they were involved in illegal activities like gambling and drugs.

What concern us at this point are the alleged violations of operational guidelines governing the set-up of checkpoints and the conduct of law enforcers. Also important are questions about the intelligence work carried out before the decision to block the two-vehicle convoy was made and the order to fire was issued.

Did the police—who apparently led the operations and asked for the military’s cooperation—bother to find out who were precisely inside the vehicles? Did it matter little to the authorities that some of the suspects’ fellow passengers could have been innocent, that it was simply a matter of bad luck for them to be in the company of the guilty?

Tessie deserves all the accolades laid on her, but she would certainly agree that it’s time civilian crime fighters retired. And that’s only possible if our law enforcers shape up.

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