During an interview of Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon by Inquirer editors, columnists, and reporters at the Inquirer offices the other week, there was talk of fake journalists, derisively called “hao shiaos,” acting as fixers at the Bureau of Customs. It was suggested that the number of “reporters” covering Customs be limited only to the legitimate journalists. Biazon said he had trimmed the number from more than 300 to 96. But that is still too many. That is more than all the reporters covering Malacañang, Congress and the Supreme Court put together.
Why are there so many hao shiaos covering Customs? Why do many of them prefer to quit their jobs and stay at Customs rather than be reassigned to another beat? Why are there so many tabloids being given away for free at the BOC? How do these hao shiaos make a living when they have no salaries from the tabloids and radio stations?
The answer is obvious to everybody except top Customs officials like Biazon: Some of them earn a lot by acting as fixers for smugglers. And they use their tabloids and radio programs to either criticize “uncooperative” Customs officials and employees or to praise the “cooperative” ones.
But they are members of the National Press Club (NPC), Biazon said.
“The present NPC is no longer the respectable club of journalists that it used to be,” somebody said.
Another mentioned that an officer of the NPC was caught red-handed for extortion at the Manila Hotel. The victim was, of all people, a police superintendent. That’s how brazen the NPC extortionists have become.
I became curious and looked at the police records. This is what the police report on the incident said:
“This pertains to the entrapment operations conducted by the elements of WCPD and SRU of this Group on July 11, 2012, at 11 a.m. at Café Ilang-Ilang, Manila Hotel, Roxas Blvd., Manila, against Marlon Purificacion, 40 years old, media practitioner, member of the National Press Club, (NPC), and a resident of Parañaque City, for Grave Threats with Extortion. It resulted in the arrest of Purificacion who received the marked money amounting to ten thousand pesos (P10,000.00).
“Upon the arrest of the suspect, the arresting officers [apprised] him of his constitutional rights and the reason for his arrest. He was brought to the PNP CLS for medico-legal and physical examinations wherein he was found positive for the presence of ultraviolet fluorescent powder [on] his hands (results of examination are attached as TAB ‘C’. Attached are his filled-[out] booking sheets and mug shots.
“On the same date at about 2:00 p.m., Mr. Benny Antiporda, President of NPC, arrived and requested from the D, CIDG for the implementation of the [memorandum of agreement] between the NPC and CIDG regarding the arrest/custody of media practitioners. In compliance with the said MOA, the undersigned referred the case to the NPC for their immediate action to conduct investigation against the suspect and submit result of their action taken to this office NLT (not later than) July 19, 2012.
“Emma Macapagal Libunao, CSEE
“Police Superintendent DSC”
It is now April 26, 2013. I asked the victim’s lawyer, Ferdinand Topacio, if the NPC had submitted a report to the police. He replied: “As far as I know, no.” I requested him to ask his client to make sure. He texted back: “No, according to her she never received any copy of any report from NPC.”
The “her” here is the victim of the extortion herself, no less than Supt. Emma Macapagal
Libunao, chief of the Women and Children Protection Division at Camp Crame in Quezon City.
I asked Topacio, who was present during the entrapment operation, for details of the incident.
Topacio began by describing the modus operandi of the tabloid extortionists. They ask for protection money from nightclub operators. “I can have you raided and closed by the police” is the usual threat. If the operators don’t come across, the hao shiaos write reports that the nightclubs stage lewd shows and should be closed by the police. If the police don’t raid the nightspots, then they turn their attacks on police officials.
Superintendent Libunao was one such police officer. Purificacion tried to pressure her to raid the nightclubs. When she did not, Purificacion started attacking her in his tabloid, Topacio said. Libunao asked for his help.
Through a mutual friend, Topacio asked how the attacks could be stopped. He said Purificacion asked for P40,000. When he told Libunao about this condition, she decided: “Let’s entrap him.”
So Topacio sent word that the money would be given to Purificacion at Manila Hotel before noon of July 11, 2012. Before Purificacion’s arrival, the arresting officers were already in place. When he arrived, an envelope containing P10,000 in marked money and treated with fluorescent powder was handed to him. He went to the washroom to count the money. While he was doing that, the police entered and arrested him.
At Camp Crame, Benny Antiporda arrived and begged that the suspect be released to his custody.
“Bata ko yan. Ako ang tatamaan dyan (He is my boy. I will be blamed for this),” Topacio quoted Antiporda as pleading. (I checked with the NPC and found out that Purificacion is not just a member but also the vice president of the club.)
Topacio said Libunao did not want to drop the case so the hao shiaos could be taught a lesson, but that her superiors prevailed on her to drop the case. Topacio said, however, that the case could be revived because the NPC did not follow the agreement to report to the police what action it had taken on Purificacion.
That is the kind of officers that the NPC has now.